So much gets made about the prowess of the Gonzaga mens basketball team, but now, its time to give the women of Spokane a much-deserved spotlight.
The seventh-seeded Gonzaga's women's basketball team will make its first-ever trip to the Sweet 16 in the wake of two early-round victories that took nearly everyone other than Coach Kelly Graves and his squad by surprise.
In a towering athletic event that featured many great performers making above-average plays under enormous pressure, the upstart from the dime-thin West Coast Conference knocked off the heavyweight from the deeper-than-deep Big 12. Second-seeded Texas A&M entered the tournament ranked No. 7 in the country, fresh off the a championship run in the Big 12 Conference Tournament and brimming with confidence. But Gonzaga who had dealt opponents so many blowouts over the course of its season and so rarely encountered last-minute nerves in 2010 found the focus and form needed to deliver the first major shocker of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament, upsetting the Aggies, 72-71, in a thriller of a game.
Yet, as much as focus and form mattered for the Zags, it was a third F-word that left Gary Blair sighing heavily in his postgame press conference, and caused Aggie players to shed the tears of a high seed that left the Big Dance far earlier than it ever expected to.
That F-word: Frieson. Vivian Frieson. A new national star was born in a titanic tilt that will be hard to top over the remainder of March Madness.
Of course, even to set up that second-round shocker, Gonzaga first had to get by North Carolina in the opening round. The 'Zags' 82-76 win in that game can't exactly be called an "upset," but it certainly seemed like one. That the Bulldogs held the higher seed over the 10th-seeded Tar Heels, long a powerhouse in women's college basketball, was already an unprecedented reversal of fortune. That it was a team from a mid-major conference that sent them packing after just one game was a bit of a stunner.
Gonzaga now moves on to the Sacramento Regional, where they will face third-seeded Xavier in the Sweet 16 on Saturday, March 27. But before moving on, let's take a moment to look back at how the 'Zags got themselves to this historic moment.
The 12 finalists for the 2010 Wade Trophy, the "Heisman" of women's basketball, were announced today by the State Farm Wade Trophy Committee in conjunction with the Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) and the National Association for Girls and Women in Sport (NAGWS).
This is definitely a time of year that I look forward to annually as I get to announce the 12 finalists for The State Farm Wade Trophy, said WBCA CEO Beth Bass. The prestige of this award goes without saying, and I can only imagine how excited these 12 student-athletes are to be on this list. We wish them the best of luck in the remainder of their seasons.
The short list includes last year's winner, Maya Moore of Connecticut, as well as her teammate, Tina Charles. Ohio State (Jantel Lavender, Samantha Prahalis) and Stanford (Jayne Appel, Nnemkadi Ogwumike) also had two players apiece on the list of finalists.
The Pittsburgh pod held true to predictions on Sundays first round action: Ohio State routed St. Francis, and Mississippi State and Middle Tennessee played an up-tempo contest in which the Bulldogs led for just 37 seconds. The last 37 seconds.
That sets up a second round on Tuesday when the second-seeded Buckeyes and the seventh-seeded Bulldogs will battle for the right to move on to the Sweet Sixteen in the Dayton Regional. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:11pm Eastern in the Petersen Events Center, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The game will be televised on ESPN2.
Georgia Tech shut down Chastity Reed, the University of Arkansas - Little Rock's leading scorer and All-American candidate, Sunday in opening round play in the Norman Subregional of the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament. That was a significant accomplishment, since Reed, the nation's fourth-leading scorer, came into the game averaging 25.3 points per game. They forgot about her Reed's less heralded teammate Kim Sitzmann, however, and it cost them dearly, as the 11th-seeded Trojans, in their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Tournament, swept to a 63-53 upset of the sixth-seeded Yellow Jackets.
With the win, the Trojans advance to Tuesday night's second round, where they will take on third-seeded Oklahoma on its own home court. For the fifth consecutive year, Oklahoma is moves on to the second-round. The third-seeded Sooners jumped on South Dakota State early, and held on late, when their scoring disappeared, in a 68-57 win over the Jackrabbits in the other first-round game in the Norman pod of the Kansas City Regional.
San Diego State had nothing to lose, except the ballgame, and the 11th-seeded Aztecs managed not to lose even that, upsetting sixth-seeded University of Texas on its home floor, 74-63, on Sunday in opening round action in the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament. In so doing, the Aztecs ended the collegiate playing careers of three highly touted Texas players -- Brittainey Raven, Earnesia Williams and Erika Arriaran -- and dealt the Longhorns another one and done in the NCAA tourney.
Can the Aztecs again play the spoiler on Tuesday night when they move on to meet West Virginia, the No. 2 regular-season finisher in the Big East and the third seed in the NCAA Memphis Regional, in second-round tournament action? The Mountaineers held seed Sunday, defeating Lamar, but by a closer than expected 58-43 final score.
Let's take a look at the two teams and how they made it to the second round:
When the words Green Bay popped up on the screen on Selection Monday, many were surprised. The Phoenix has traditionally been a mid-major power, but no one from their conference had ever received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Despite Green Bay's regular-season league dominance, when Cleveland State made its dark horse run to take the title in the Horizon League's conference tournament -- and with it, the Horizon's automatic bid to the NCAA Division I Women's Basketball Tournament -- most thought the Vikings had written the ending on the Phoenix's hopes for an invitation to the Big Dance.
Interestingly, some of those surprised when Green Bay's name was called for an at-large bid were the Phoenix themselves. They were preparing to play in the WNIT, but happily changed those plans and accepted their number 12 seed. They set out to prove they earned the bid.
On Sunday night, they did exactly that, with a 69-67 upset of fifth-seeded Virginia that ended the season of the Cavaliers' Monica Wright much earlier than expected. And the Phoenix will have another chance to prove that they belong among the elite of the women's game on Tuesday, March 21, at 9:40 p.m. Eastern/8:40 p.m. Central, when they meet fourth-seeded Iowa State in the tournament's second round. The Cyclones took their own opening round match easily with a 79-42 rout of 13th-seeded Lehigh.
The Cyclones, playing in front of their home crowd, are the odds-on favorite to advance out of the second round. But then again, something similar could have been said for Virginia. Another upset, this one over the Big 12's regular-season second-place finisher, would give the Phoenix their first-ever trip to the Sweet 16.
Let's take a look at how these two teams got to their second-round rendezvous: