The No. 11 seed Bulldogs, paced by Emma Wolfram with a career-high 17 points, held off a furious late rally by the Oregon State Beavers on their home court for a 76-64 victory on Sunday.
Gonzaga (26-7) advances to the Sweet Sixteen, heading home to Spokane to face the winner of Monday’s game in Knoxville between Tennessee (28-5) and Pittsburgh (20-11).
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The Bulldogs were also the No. 11 seed in 2011, and also playing in the Spokane Regional, when they made a stunning run to the regional finals before losing to top seed Stanford.
The possible homecoming was one of Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier’s points of emphasis.
”Lisa said it before the game: `We’re capable, we can do this, and if we do it, we’re coming right back home and we’re playing where we’re comfortable,”’ said Elle Tinkle, who added 14 points and seven rebounds. ”It will be nice having a little home-court help for sure.”
Gonzaga also made it to the regional semifinals in 2012 as an 11 seed.
The Beavers (27-5) have never made it to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament’s current format. In 1983, they beat UCLA to advance to the second round when the field was 32 teams.
Gonzaga led by as many as 12 points midway through the second half, but Oregon State tied the game at 64 on Jamie Weisner’s 3-pointer with 3:30 to go.
That would be the last points the Beavers would score as Gonzaga had the game’s final 12 points.
Sunny Greinacher’s layup put the Zags back in front before Keani Albanez’s layup just beat the shot clock to make it 68-64 with 1:26 left and time ran out for the Beavers.
Oregon State coach Scott Rueck called the shot-clock layup the shot of the game.
”I think right then, a little doubt came in, and you can’t let that happen,” he said.
Weisner had 24 points for Oregon State, which won it’s first-ever Pac-12 regular-season title this season. The team’s wins are the most-ever for the women in school history.
But the Beavers had struggled at time heading into the NCAAs. A loss to Stanford in the final week of the regular season spoiled Oregon State’s perfect record at home, and then the team fell to Colorado in is Pac-12 tournament opener against Colorado.
Last year Oregon State returned to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 18 seasons. After opening with a victory against Middle Tennessee, the Beavers fell to South Carolina in the second round.
”It hurts right now, that’s for sure,” said Oregon State sophomore Sydney Weise, who was held to just seven points by Gonzaga. ”We wanted to get deeper in this tournament. But we won a Pac-12 championship this year. That’s pretty incredible.”
The Zags, the West Coast Conference champions who won an at-large bid, are playing in their seventh-straight NCAA Tournament.
The Beavers jumped out to a 9-2 lead, following a pair of baskets from Ruth Hamblin, named the Pac-12 player of the year. Gonzaga narrowed it to 12-11 on Greinacher’s jumper, then pulled in front on Georgia Stirton’s basket.
The Zags, shooting 73 percent through the first 10 minutes and making 13 straight shots after starting 1-of-5, pulled in front 31-25. Fortier was surprised Gonzaga wasn’t able to pull further away over the span.
”I thought `Wow, this is pretty hard.’ And we were playing really well,” she said. ”And we knew it was going to get harder and harder and harder.”
The Bulldogs finished up the half going 2-for-11 but still held a 37-34 lead at the break.
Ali Gibson’s 3-pointer tied it for Oregon State to open the second half but Gonzaga took control from there. The Bulldogs stretched the lead to 53-43 on Greinacher’s jumper with just under 12 minutes to go.
Gonzaga: Wolfram, a redshirt freshman playoff the bench, had to ask after the game if she had indeed hit her career high for points.
Oregon State: Weisner played on the same AAU team as Tinkle when the two were kids. … The two teams met previously in the 2004 WNIT, where the Beavers won 69-64 in Corvallis.
ALL IN THE FAMILY: Tinkle’s dad is Wayne Tinkle, who is head coach of the Oregon State men’s team. Tinkle, naturally, threw his allegiance behind his daughter for the game, sitting in behind the Zags’ bench.
Tinkle said she understood her father got a little bit excited at some point of the game.
”I heard he was on the other bench at one point,” she said. ”I’m glad I didn’t see that.”
Gonzaga heads home to Spokane to face the winner of Monday’s game in Knoxville between Tennessee (28-5) and Pittsburgh (20-11).