Pitt comes up with big plays when needed, holding off Gonzaga's charge

SEATTLE -- Cycling through Shavonte Zellous' mind was a constant thought as the minutes ticked away and Pittsburgh's season hung precariously.

"Anything less than the Sweet 16 would be a failure," she said.

And just in time for the Panthers, Zellous made sure their season will continue in the round of 16.

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

It certainly wasn't a pretty effort by the Panthers. It was gritty -- sometimes ugly -- and rarely easy against the scrappy 12th-seeded Bulldogs. Yet the Panthers are back in the regional semifinals for the second straight year, awaiting either Oklahoma or Georgia Tech.

"That's what tonight was, a big cover," Pitt coach Agnus Berenato said. "We were able to weather the storm tonight and come together as a team."

The feisty Bulldogs, trying to share the spotlight with their better known men's program, made life extremely difficult for the No. 4 seed Panthers in just Gonzaga's third NCAA tournament game in school history.

But it was Zellous and Pitt's experience coming through at the end. Whether it was a defensive stand, hitting free throws or scoring in traffic, the Panthers star came up with every big play as the seconds ticked away.

"With Zellous, she's just a great, phenomenal player," Gonzaga's Courtney Vandersloot said. "You can't stop a player like that. She is going to get her points."

Zellous got 22 in the second half, and scored on a pair of tough drives in the final 2 minutes, capitalizing on turnovers by Vandersloot, the Bulldogs' spunky catalyst. Zellous added a pair of free throws to put the Panthers up 63-60 with 15.9 seconds left after Janelle Bekkering was called for traveling when she slipped on a breakaway that could have put Gonzaga in front.

Bekkering had one final chance to pull Gonzaga even but her 3-pointer missed with 6 seconds left, and Xenia Stewart capped the victory with two more free throws.

"Those plays haven't stopped running through my head since the game finished. ... The ball doesn't always bounce your way," Vandersloot said of her two turnovers. "Down the stretch, my team is counting on me to make those plays. It happens, I have to move past it, [but] it's killing me."

Last year, Pitt reached the regional semifinals before falling to eventual national finalist Stanford. Zellous struggled through one of her toughest outings of the season against Gonzaga to get Pitt back there, coming through with all the crucial plays the Panthers needed.

Zellous' 3-pointer with 3:30 left pulled Pitt even at 54-all -- the 14th and final tie -- just 20 seconds after Vandersloot's three-point play had momentum in favor of the Zags. Vandersloot led the Bulldogs (27-7) with 18 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.

Stewart added a 3 with 2:55 left and Zellous' breakaway layup with 1:46 left, off a tipped Vandersloot pass, gave Pitt the lead for good at 59-58.

Just 57 seconds later, the same thing happened: Vandersloot's pass was tipped and Zellous scored for a 61-58 lead. Heather Bowman scored for Gonzaga and the Bulldogs forced a Shayla Scott turnover with 25 seconds left. But Bekkering lost her footing trying to slow down while going up for a shot and was called for traveling. Zellous was fouled and hit both free throws -- part of a 20-for-22 night at the line for Pitt -- and Bekkering's last chance 3 rimmed off. Gonzaga was just 2 of 11 on 3-pointers.

"Last year was kind of a sweet success for us when we went there last year," Zellous said. "This year, that's where we wanted to be headed to again."

Bowman, the Bulldogs' leading scorer, battled her way to 15 points, but had only one basket in the final nine minutes. Stewart added 12 points for Pitt.