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Originally published Sunday, March 22, 2009 at 12:00 AM

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Gonzaga women cruise by No.5 seed Xavier, 74-59

Gonzaga is located about 300 miles away from Edmundson Pavilion. But when Kentwood High product Courtney Vandersloot gazes around the arena...

Seattle Times staff reporter

Gonzaga is located about 300 miles away from Edmundson Pavilion. But when Kentwood High product Courtney Vandersloot gazes around the arena, it feels like home anyway.

She's won on the floor in high school and on AAU teams. She even defeated Washington in a season opener in November. And on Saturday, she finished with 15 points and 11 assists as the No. 12-seeded Zags defeated fifth-seeded Xavier 74-59 in the first round of the NCAA women's basketball tournament.

"We're not surprised by this at all," said Vandersloot, who is a sophomore. "We came in here knowing that we're just as good or better than this team. Because of our seeding, maybe teams look past us. But we know who we are and we should be here."

Heather Bowman led her team with 23 points while Garfield High grad Vivian Frieson had 17.

It's the first time in school history that Gonzaga has advanced in the tournament, making its first trip in 2007. It's the fourth time since 2001 that Xavier has lost in the opening round.

"Everyone is so excited, our locker room afterward was nuts," said Bowman, who shot 9 of 17. "But at that the same time we came here to do a job. We came here to win and we didn't expect anything less."

Ta'Shia Phillips led Xavier with 26 points and 18 rebounds.

As planned, Gonzaga used its quickness and Vandersloot's uncanny court vision to rattle Xavier. The point guard's prettiest play was with 5:50 remaining in the opening half when, while driving down court, she spotted Bowman, a junior forward, cutting in the paint. Vandersloot zipped a pass inside and Bowman finished, drawing a foul for an old-school three-point play.

The Zags led 19-17 at that point and took a 29-26 lead into intermission.

The Musketeers began to make mistakes in the second half, turning the ball over and committing ticky-tack fouls. After two buckets by Vandersloot, the Atlantic-10 champs trailed 38-28.

Ta'Shia Phillips seemingly grabbed every rebound for an easy putback and teammate April Phillips joined in the physical battle underneath to chip away at Gonzaga's lead late. With four minutes remaining in the game, the Musketeers pulled to 60-57 after two made free throws by Ta'Shia Phillips.

Down the stretch, Frieson make key baskets and Kelly Bowen grab an important board to help secure the win.

The Bulldogs will face fourth-seeded Pitt on Monday for the right to advance to the Sweet 16.

Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company

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