At least on the surface, the 11-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs' path to the Final Four probably looks a lot easier than it did based on what most people predicted prior to the 2011 NCAA women's basketball tournament.
In arguably the biggest upset of the tournament thus far, the seventh-seeded Louisville Cardinal knocked off the second-seeded Xavier Musketeers 85-75 yesterday to advance to the Sweet Sixteen against Gonzaga at 6 p.m. PST on Saturday. After Xavier beat Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen last season, the opportunity to avoid twin towers Amber Harris and Ta'shia Phillips this season has to be seen as a relief - Xavier's height makes for a much tougher matchup than Louisville.
Although Cardinals freshman phenom Shoni Schimmel has been called the female Jimmer Fredette after her 33-point performance in last night's upset, Gonzaga has a few things working in their favor: Louisville will have to find a way to stop Bulldogs point guard Courtney Vandersloot, Gonzaga's core players are tournament-tested upperclassmen at this point, and Schimmel is prone to have ups and downs as a freshman. If Gonzaga gets the type of fan support that at Spokane Arena that they did on campus, a first-ever Elite Eight trip seems even more likely now than it would have against Xavier.
If things go as one might expect on Saturday at 8:30 p.m. PST between the fifth-seeded North Carolina Tar Heels and top-seeded Stanford Cardinal, Gonzaga could get a second chance this season against this season's Pac-10 champion. The singular Cardinal beat the Bulldogs 84-78 back in November at McCarthey Athletic Center. But with combination of an even more exuberant March Madness crowd backing Gonzaga and a couple of Cardinal freshmen nursing injuries the outcome could be different this time.
As reported by San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Tom FitzGerald, both Pac-10 Freshman of the Year Chiney Ogwumike and classmate Toni Kokenis underwent precautionary x-rays yesterday after sustaining injuries in their 75-49 win over St. John's with great fan support in their own right during their sub-regional at Maples Pavilion.
Ogwumike injured a finger in a scramble for a loose ball midway through the first half of Monday night's 75-49 NCAA Tournament win over St. John's. She didn't sit out long and finished with 13 points.
Kokenis left with an injury to her left ankle late in the first half. She soon departed to the locker room. When she returned to the bench during the second half, she received a big hand from the crowd, but she was done for the night.
Sweet Sixteen Predictions:
#1 Tennessee Lady Vols def. #4 Ohio State Buckeyes
#1 Baylor Lady Bears def. #5 Green Bay Phoenix
#2 Texas A&M Aggies def. #6 Georgia Bulldogs
#1 Stanford def. #5 North Carolina
#11 Gonzaga def. #7 Louisville
Elite Eight Predictions
#2 Notre Dame def. #1 Tennessee (The Lady Vols are peaking at the right time, but I'm sticking to my original prediction)
#1 UConn def. #3 DePaul
#1 Baylor def. #2 TAMU (This should be another good one, but the Griner factor should decide it)
#1 Stanford def. #11 Gonzaga (Stanford just has so much talent in the post that it's hard to pick against them)