CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) Gonzaga forward Sunny Greinacher said the Bulldogs have learned from previous NCAA Tournament appearances to stay calm during crunch time. And she did on Friday.
With the shot clock dwindling late in a tight game, the senior had to shoot from deep, and made just her second 3-pointer of the season.
”I think the reason why I made that three is I didn’t think that much about it,” Greinacher said. ”I just knew the shot clock was running down.”
The basket gave 11-seed Gonzaga a much-needed cushion as they held on for an 82-69 upset over sixth-seeded George Washington in the opening round Friday night.
Greinacher had 19 points and eight rebounds, Keani Albanez added 19 points and four steals, and Elle Tinkle scored 11 for the Bulldogs (25-7), who had a vocal cheering section at Gill Coliseum.
”I love the way we battled. That was not an easy game to win,” said Gonzaga Coach Lisa Fortier.
”At this level of game, it’s way more physical than what we expected, but we were ready for it,” Albanez said.
Jonquel Jones had 11 points and 14 rebounds, despite being limited to 23 minutes by foul trouble, and Kelli Prange came off the bench to score 13 for the Colonials (29-4).
George Washington outrebounded Gonzaga 51-39, but shot only 29.3 percent compared to the Bulldogs’ 42.3 percent.
Colonials Coach Jonathan Tsipis said the Bulldogs switched things up defense by pressing more and playing more zone. ”They’re so active, and where they don’t have length, they have a tenacity about them,” he added.
Gonzaga took a quick 7-0 lead, forcing turnovers on George Washington’s first four possessions.
The Colonials took a hit when Jones, the Atlantic 10 player and defensive player of the year, got into early foul trouble.
Gonzaga took advantage with Jones on the bench, going on a 17-1 run capped by an Albanez 3-pointer with 2:25 remaining in the first half, which made the score 38-19.
”They showed in the first half why they’re a special team, especially offensively,” Tsipis said.
The Bulldogs went to the break up 40-25.
George Washington clawed back to within six points on a Brianna Cummings lay-up with 3:46 left, but Greinacher made a 3-pointer on the next possession to make the score 71-62.
Jones, a junior forward, averaged 15.5 points and 12.4 rebounds per game this season.
”We have a lot of growth to look forward to. This was our first taste of the NCAA Tournament,” she said.
Greinacher led the Bulldogs this season with 13.7 points per game.
George Washington: The Colonials, the champions of the Atlantic 10, came into the game on an eight-game winning streak. …This was George Washington’s first tourney appearance since 2008, but the Colonials have been in the NCAA Tournament 16 times total, all since 1991. … Tsipis was the A-10 coach of the year.
Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have been to the NCAA Tournament seven years in a row and eight out of the last nine. . Gonzaga won its 11th straight West Coast Conference regular season title, but lost in the WCC Tournament semifinals to Brigham Young. The Bulldogs were an at-large selection to the tourney. … Tinkle, a junior guard, is the daughter of Wayne Tinkle, the men’s basketball coach at Oregon State, where Friday’s game was held.
Both teams shot plenty of free throws, but Gonzaga capitalized, making 29 of 34 from the charity stripe, or 85.3 percent, including 9 for 10 in the final two minutes. ”We did have a lot of people that go to the line with confidence in big moments,” Fortier said. George Washington shot 20-32 on free throws, or 62.5 percent.
Fortier, the West Coast Conference coach of the year, said Greinacher is one of the best mid-range shooters she’s seen in a while, but she was hoping the 3-pointer would just hit the rim so the Bulldogs could get a rebound. Tsipis said the shot was a ”giant momentum play. That’s what you expect from kids with tournament experience.”