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Gonzaga women get rematch with Texas A&M

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By Rich Myhre
Herald Writer
SEATTLE — In a season filled with successes, the Gonzaga University women’s basketball team has endured only a few blemishes.
The last one — and the last time the Bulldogs suffered defeat — was on Dec. 20, when Gonzaga faced Texas A&M at a pre-Christmas tournament in Las Vegas. The final score was 80-76, and the Bulldogs needed a late rally to avoid being routed.
“To be truthful,” admitted Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves, “it really wasn’t that close of a game.”
Since then, the Bulldogs have run off 19 straight victories, and tonight at Bank of America Arena they’ll be aiming to make it 20 in a row with a 6:30 p.m. rematch against Texas A&M. The winner advances to the third round of the NCAA Tournament, while the loser will end its season.
The last time Gonzaga and Texas A&M met, said Bulldogs forward Kelly Bowen, “we didn’t play our best, and we want to play them again. So we’re really excited. It’s going to be a great one.”
Gonzaga won its tournament opener on Saturday night with an 82-76 victory over North Carolina. Texas A&M rolled past Portland State 84-53 in its first game.
If Gonzaga beats the Aggies and extends its season, it will accomplish something it has yet to do this season — defeat a ranked team. The Bulldogs were blown out by Stanford, ranked No. 2 at the time, on Nov. 29, 105-74. And one night before losing to No. 13 Texas A&M, they were smacked by No. 6 Baylor at the Las Vegas tournament, 70-49.
Otherwise, Gonzaga has been impressive this season, going undefeated in 16 games through the West Coast Conference regular season and postseason tournament. The team’s closest margin of victory in those games was 13 points.
Also, the Bulldogs won twice against Pacific-10 Conference teams, beating USC by 12 points and Washington by 29.
But the loss against Texas A&M was, Graves said, “the turning point in our season.”
“We were very ugly for about 30 minutes of that game,” he said. “They really took it to us. But something clicked and ... in the second half we put some pressure on them, forced some turnovers and started to make shots. We kind of our rhythm going.”
And it was after that game, he added, “that this team really took off.”
Gonzaga’s roster is heavy with Washington players, including two Seattle-area starters — junior point guard Courtney Vanderesloot from Kent’s Kentwood High School, and forward Vivian Frieson from Seattle’s Garfield High School. Vandersloot is a terrific playmaker who had 15 assists, nine points and five steals against North Carolina, while Frieson was a workhorse around the basket with 16 points, 13 rebounds and three blocked shots against the Tar Heels.
Backup guard/forward Katelan Redmon, meanwhile, played at Washington in the 2007-08 season, but then transferred to Gonzaga and sat out last season. She topped the Bulldogs in scoring against North Carolina with 18 points.
Despite Gonzaga’s long winning streak, Graves knows his team faces a tall challenge tonight against the Aggies, who are the region’s second-seeded team behind Stanford.
“They’re so athletic and they’re versatile,” he said. “They have players that can go inside and outside, and they all have ball skills. So we’re going to really have to be at our best to be able to compete with them.”
One plus for the Bulldogs should be a home-court feel. A large contingent of noisy Gonzaga fans showed up for Saturday’s game against North Carolina, and there should be as many, if not more, for tonight’s game.
“We get a lot of fan support here,” said senior guard Tiffanie Shives. “It’s just a comfortable feel.”
The North Carolina game “was a great atmosphere,” Vandersloot agreed, “and that’s what we were hoping for when we got the draw in Seattle. Once we get it rolling and our fans are behind us, we’re a pretty hard team to stop.”
Story tags » Gonzaga Basketball

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