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Zags Show Nation They Belong With The Elite; Fall In Final Minute To Pitt

March 24, 2009

SEATTLE (AP) - Shavonte Zellous carried Pittsburgh back to the round of 16. Barely.

Zellous scored nine of her 24 points in the final 4 minutes, and Pittsburgh capitalized on Gonzaga's youthful mistakes in the closing minutes of a 65-60 win in the second-round of the Oklahoma City Regional on Monday night.

The 12th-seeded Bulldogs made life extremely difficult for the No. 4 seed Panthers, but it was Zellous and Pitt's experience coming through at the end.

Zellous scored on a pair of drives off Gonzaga turnovers in the final 2 minutes then hit a pair of free throws to put the Panthers up 63-60 with 15.9 seconds left after another Gonzaga mistake. When Janelle Bekkering's 3-pointer missed with 6 seconds left, the Panthers were headed to the regional semifinals for the second straight year.

Xenia Stewart capped the victory with a pair of free throws with 3 seconds left and the Panthers assured themselves a date with either top-seeded Oklahoma or No. 9 seed Georgia Tech in the round of 16. Last year, Pitt advanced to the regional semis for the first time in school history before getting bounced by eventual national finalist Stanford.

Zellous struggled through one of her toughest outings of the season, only to come through with crucial plays in the closing minutes as Gonzaga showed the signs of a team playing just its three NCAA tournament game in school history.

Neither team shot very well, but Pitt (25-7) was 20 of 22 at the free-throw line, the only two misses by Zellous.

For all the great plays spunky Gonzaga point guard Courtney Vandersloot made in helping the Zags stay even with Pitt for most of the night, she was responsible for two tipped passes that turned into breakaways by Zellous in the closing minutes.

Then there was Bekkering, who stole Shayla Scott's pass with 25 seconds left and Gonzaga down 61-60, only to get moving too fast and was called for traveling. The turnover with 20 seconds left forced Gonzaga to foul Zellous, who hit both. Bekkering had an open look from the wing to tie, but the shot rimmed off. Gonzaga was just 2 of 11 on 3-pointers.

Vandersloot led the Bulldogs (27-7) with 18 points, seven assists and seven rebounds. Heather Bowman, the Bulldogs' leading scorer, battled her way to 15 points, but scored only one basket in the final nine minutes.

The second half was a constant back-and-forth swing of momentum, neither team able to put together a sustained run and build any sort of cushion. The biggest lead for either team was Pitt's final five-point margin.

The Panthers led to 51-47 with 7:41 left and seemed on the verge of finally pushing ahead for good. But like most of the second half, Gonzaga wasn't done. Vandersloot scored on a floater and Bowman's three-point play on the low block pushed Goznaga ahead by one.

The Zags lead was three after Vandersloot's smooth drive out of a timeout with 3:46 left, but Zellous pulled Pitt even with a 3 and Stewart's 3 put the Panthers up 57-56 moments later.

Vivian Frieson, scoreless all night, scored her second basket in less than a minute to put the Zags back in front, before Zellous scored off consecutive Gonzaga turnovers and Pitt stayed ahead for good.