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Pitt women set for upset-minded Gonzaga

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Monday, March 23, 2009

SEATTLE — It isn't uncommon to hear the name Gonzaga mentioned in March.

It is, however, uncommon to hear about the Zags when talking about the NCAA Women's Tournament.

The No. 12 seed Zags (27-6) changed that Saturday night at Bank of America Arena on the Washington campus, where they upset No. 5 seed Xavier, 74-59, to set up a second-round meeting against No. 4 seed Pitt (24-7) at 9:35 tonight.

The win was Gonzaga's first in the NCAA Women's Tournament, following its first tournament appearance in 2007. Now, they have a chance to go to the Sweet 16.

"I've told (the players) a couple times this year, we have nothing to lose," Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. "And a good team — and I think we're a good team — with nothing to lose can be a dangerous combination. That's what we hope happens (tonight)."

Unlike Montana, which successfully slowed Pitt down during the first half of their first-round game Saturday night, Gonzaga likely will play at a different tempo.

"They like to push the ball in transition. They play tall. They're lean. They play athletic; have great outside shooters. Their post will definitely go ahead and invert and take the jump shot or shoot from the 17-foot range," Pitt coach Agnus Berenato said. "They play a lot of zone. They play sagging man-to-man. They press. They sound like us."

Xavier entered its first-round game against Gonzaga allowing just 53 points per game — sixth best in the country. Yet Gonzaga never trailed, as it nearly equaled the most points Xavier had allowed all season — 75 against Arizona State.

The Zags' focus against Xavier was stopping 6-foot-6 center Ta'Shia Phillips, who still got 26 points and 18 rebounds. It was Phillips' teammates that Gonzaga contained, and the Zags likely will employ a similar approach against guard Shavonte Zellous, who scored 31 points Saturday, and Pitt.

"Now, (Gonzaga is) going to face someone completely different in Shavonte," ESPN analyst Krista Blunk said. "You just don't stop Shavonte. She plays as big as the bigs, and I don't know that they've seen anyone with that kind of quickness or athleticism.

"They're not going to stop her, so the key for Gonzaga is going to be to make sure the defense is solid on players like Taneisha Harris or Chelsea Cole coming off the bench."

On the flip side, Blunk said, Zellous will have to get her touches, and the Panthers will need more from fellow senior Xenia Stewart, who had three points and six rebounds against Montana, and freshman center Pepper Wilson, who had two points and two rebounds.

There's something else the Panthers will have to contend with — the danger of playing an underdog with a lot of confidence and a home-crowd advantage.

Minus that advantage, Gonzaga's situation isn't much different from where the Panthers found themselves last year — in the NCAA Women's Tournament for just the second time, with a chance to make program history.

Gonzaga's coach knows it won't be easy.

"Pitt's great; they really are," Graves said. "That second half (against Montana) is as good as I've seen anybody defend in a long time. We know it's going to be a challenge, and we have to play really well.

"But we're capable; there's no question."

Additional Information:

Today's game

NCAA Women's Tournament

Oklahoma City Regional · Second round

Pitt (24-7) vs. Gonzaga (27-6)

9:35 p.m. · Bank of America Arena, Seattle

TV/radio: ESPN2/WBGG-AM (970)

Line: No line

Series: Pitt leads, 1-0

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