Garfield graduate Vivian Frieson is Gonzaga's rock in the middle
While much is made of Courtney Vandersloot, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, and junior forward Heather Bowman, last year's honoree, Vivian Frieson is actually the Zags' rock.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Pitt vs. Gonzaga at Edmundson Pavilion, 6:30 p.m., ESPN2
Players to watch: In the backcourt, Zags PG Courtney Vandersloot (11 assists in NCAA debut against Xavier on Saturday) will match up against Pitt's Shavonte Zellous (31 points on 13-of-27 shooting against Montana). Panthers C Pepper Wilson is 6-foot-6, but lumbering in comparison to Zags 6-2 forward Heather Bowman.
What Gonzaga has to do to win: Like Saturday, Gonzaga needs to start quick and focus on defense. The Zags won't stop Zellous from scoring, but they can't let her loose and think shutting others down will win the game, either. If Pitt whips out its stifling press, Vandersloot needs to keep cool, while teammates help her continue to move the ball around. Lulling the Panthers into a half-court game to get an edge is possible, but difficult.
What Pitt has to do to win: The Panthers have a tendency to be a second-half team, but they can't expect to grind through a slow first half and recover against competitive Gonzaga. Zellous needs help offensively, and Pitt has to continue to play its suffocating defense. Patience on offense will be key, because the Zags are also solid defensively.
Bottom line: It's an even matchup on paper. The dueling up-tempo style is a slight edge to Pitt, but the Zags' quickness inside will be the difference.
Prediction: Gonzaga 65, Pitt 63.
Courtney Vandersloot thought about giving her teammate a heads-up.
The Gonzaga camp played a joke on the team jokester, junior Vivian Frieson, putting a dead spider in a cup and offering the arachnophobe a drink.
"I was worried," said Vandersloot of the setup.
Then the sophomore guard remembered all the times she walked weary from practice to the weight room, only to be startled by Frieson jumping out to scare her.
Payback was on. And Frieson ran scared through the corridors of Edmundson Pavilion after practice on Sunday, screaming for her life.
But that'll be the only time you catch her running in fear.
While much is made of Vandersloot, the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, and junior forward Heather Bowman, last year's honoree, Frieson is actually the Zags' rock. The Garfield High graduate will be leading the way when 12th-seeded Gonzaga (27-6) faces No. 4 seed Pittsburgh (24-7) in an NCAA women's basketball tournament second-round game tonight at Edmundson Pavilion.
The Zags, making their second tournament appearance, set a goal of advancing to the Sweet 16. To do so, they'll have to get past the Panthers of the Big East, which Pitt coach Agnus Berenato calls frankly "the best conference in the country."
"They have a really quick and athletic team," said Frieson, who averaged 10 points and 7.1 rebounds in the regular season. "But I'm looking forward to going out there and playing our game."
The 6-foot power forward could be a difference-maker in tonight's matchup of up-tempo teams. In the Zags' win against fifth-seeded Xavier in the first round Saturday, she scored 11 of her 17 points after halftime to help hold off a Musketeers comeback.
At other times, it's her steals, blocks or rebounds that give the Bulldogs an edge. Coach Kelly Graves has even had Frieson play point guard at times to give Vandersloot a breather.
"Vivian is what we like to call a stat-filler," Graves said. "She has been our unsung hero in the key. She's a matchup headache for a lot of people. If they put a smaller player on her, she has the ability to post up. If they put [in] a taller or slower player, she has the ability to create off the dribble. She can do everything that we ask."
That includes being humble.
Seattle may remember Frieson from her days starting at Garfield, which included winning a state championship in 2004. Frieson readily admits she was too cocky back then.
She trash-talked on the court, and the Gonzaga staff still hasn't let her forget when, after a win over Roosevelt her senior season, she told a reporter that "I just want to show that was a fluke that we lost to Roosevelt [previously]."
Later, in a rematch to advance to state, Garfield lost to Roosevelt.
"Ate my words," Frieson said. "It's hard to believe. Now I'm a little quieter on the court. I'm a little more humble, especially from that year. We had just won the championship and were on a high. The next year we didn't even make it to the Tacoma Dome. I was like, 'Wow. God, I talk too much.' "
The life lessons continued in college. Last season was the toughest, as Frieson's grandmother died of brain cancer, one friend committed suicide, and another was shot to death. Frieson also had to deal with her former high-school coach, Joyce Walker, going through drug rehab.
Frieson, who rarely gets to return home during the school year, spoke to Walker during Christmas break.
"It was really nice talking to her, catching up, and she might actually show up to the game," Frieson said.
Regardless, the stands will be populated by Bulldogs fans wanting to see if Frieson and her team have the talent to pull another upset. The backcourt battle will be a highlight, as the Panthers feature guard Shavonte Zellous, who scored 31 points in her team's first-round win. Pitt also has size inside with 6-6 center Pepper Wilson.
"It takes some heart to be little in there with those big girls," Frieson said. "Their elbows happen to all be right at forehead level."
But as long as it's not a spider, Frieson will be fine.
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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