Zags can’t hold onto a 17-point lead, lose regional semifinal game in overtime

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SPOKANE — Emma Wolfram posted up on the block, nose dripping with blood.

Second-seeded Tennessee gave her No. 11 seed Gonzaga team all it could. Wolfram took the hits, disregarded the blood and played basketball as she had the past five months — tough and efficiently.

But efficiency gave way to Tennessee’s persistence. And a one-time 17-point Zags lead faded into a 73-69 Volunteers overtime victory Saturday in Spokane Arena.

Tennessee (30-5) will play top-seeded Maryland (33-2) on Monday for a trip to the Women’s Final Four.

Gonzaga lingered on the court before a partisan crowd of 8,686 covered in red and blue. The Bulldogs (26-8) made an unexpected NCAA tournament run, given the fact they have a first-year head coach and lost a strong senior backcourt from last season.

“When the game was over and we were jogging back to the locker room, it obviously all flashed in front of your eyes,” GU senior Sunny Greinacher said of the season. “We definitely made the best of what we had. We struggled at the beginning of the year, but we got ourselves together.”

Tennessee was held without a field goal in overtime but made all 10 of its shots at the foul line to avoid the upset. The Vols lost in the Sweet 16 round last season. Saturday, seniors Cierra Burdick and Ariel Massengale were scrapping to be sure it didn’t happen again.

Burdick, a 6-foot-2 forward, led Tennessee with 22 points and 15 rebounds.

Officials didn’t notice the blood on Wolfram’s face in the opening half. She collected a pass from Keani Albanez, turned and drained a midrange bucket over her defender for an early 20-12 lead. The crowd inside Spokane Arena erupted in cheers.

Junior Shelby Cheslek fanned the flames in the second half, gesturing the crowd to get louder as the Zags pieced together a 14-2 run for a 52-38 lead with 10:07 remaining. Her old-fashioned three-point play with 6:34 left moved the noise level inside the arena to rock-concert status and the lead to 17 points.

Vols coach Holly Warlick opted to start pressing the Zags because, “We were getting our butts kicked, so I thought we got to do something different.”

Tennessee built a one-point lead off a pair of free throws from sophomore guard Jordan Reynolds with 1:30 left in regulation.

Wolfram regained the lead on a layin off a feed from Albanez with 58 seconds left. But Reynolds made of one of two free throws with 42 seconds left to tie the score at 63.

Neither team could score again in regulation to avoid overtime.

Greinacher had a game-high 24 points. Albanez added 20.

“We have this drill in practice called the persistence drill where you have to play 30 seconds of perfect defense and if you get a backdoor cut or give up an offensive rebound, the clock starts over,” Massengale said of the training that helped Tennessee pull out the victory. “Cierra and myself, there’s been times where we’ve been in that drill for 45 minutes in one practice. So, that’s something that we just kept telling ourselves, ‘Persistence drill!’”

Tennessee had trouble working its way around Gonzaga’s lanky front line for the majority of the game. Wolfram, a 6-foot-5 redshirt freshman, worked with Cheslek (6-5) and Greinacher (6-4) to keep Vols star posts Burdick (6-2) and Bashaara Graves (6-2) uncomfortable.

Gonzaga outscored Tennessee 22-8 inside the paint in the opening half. Graves, the Vols’ leading scorer, was in early foul trouble and finished with seven points in the game on 3-for-12 shooting from the field.

But it was the persistence that won the game for Tennessee.

“Programs like Tennessee don’t fade away,” first-year Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said. “They never have and they never will. They expected to win that game.”

Maryland 65, Duke 55

The top-seed Terrapins (33-2) posted their 27th consecutive victory this season.

Duke (23-11) played its signature zone defense, limiting Maryland’s scoring in the paint in the opening half. But Terrapins guard Laurin Mincy was prepared to shoot from outside and made four three-pointers to help build a 31-23 lead at halftime.

Maryland only trailed for 35 seconds in the game. Sophomore Shatori Walker-Kimbrough led the Terps with 24 points.