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Xavier pushes past Gonzaga to reach regional final

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Xavier's low-post tandem of Ta'Shia Phillips and Amber Harris was just too big, too tough and altogether too much for Gonzaga.

Phillips had 22 points and 14 rebounds, Katie Rutan added 15 points and third-seeded Xavier rumbled into its first NCAA tournament regional final in nine years with its 21st straight victory, 74-56 over Gonzaga on Saturday night.

Harris had 14 points and 10 rebounds for the imposing Musketeers (30-3), who broke free of the Zags early in the second half of a game that ended around 1:30 a.m. back home in Cincinnati.

Xavier's punishing low-post tandem of the 6-foot-6 Phillips and the 6-5 Harris calmly battered Gonzaga (29-5), which had its own 20-game winning streak snapped at the close of the most successful season in school history.

Xavier's landmark season is extended to Monday, when the Musketeers will face top-seeded Stanford in the Sacramento Regional final.

The Cardinal demolished Georgia 73-36 earlier at Arco Arena, but star center Jayne Appel will have to pick on somebody her own size — two somebodies, actually — to reach the Final Four.

Special Jennings scored 12 points for the Musketeers, who are in a regional final for just the second time in school history, joining the 2001 team. Xavier hadn't been past the first round since, losing four straight NCAA games — including each of the past three seasons — before this remarkable run.

Xavier also got a measure of revenge for the Zags' upset victory over the fifth-seeded Musketeers in last season's NCAA first round. After a relentless second-half offensive effort, Xavier didn't even have to endure another nail-biter after its previous four games went down to the final minutes.

While Xavier relies on its low-post game, Rutan has provided outside shooting that the Musketeers lacked in last season's loss to Gonzaga. Rutan hit three of her four 3-pointers in the first half.

Katelan Redmon scored 12 of her 14 points in the second half, but the rest of the Zags were shut down by Xavier's defense — particularly their two best players.

Heather Bowman, the leading scorer in Gonzaga history, finished her career with 12 points. But badgered by Xavier's low-post defense, she didn't score in the second half until hitting two free throws with 5:56 to play when the Zags trailed by 15.

Xavier also stymied Courtney Vandersloot, Bowman's point guard and the West Coast Conference's player of the year. She had five of her 11 assists in the second half, but didn't score.

The Musketeers increased their one-point halftime lead with nine straight points to open the second half, including five straight by Harris. Gonzaga missed four shots and made two turnovers while falling behind 43-33 with 15½ minutes left, but kept it close with 10 points in less than four minutes by Redmon, a sophomore reserve.

Gonzaga's 74-59 win over Xavier in last season was the Zags' first NCAA tournament victory and a watershed moment for coach Kelly Graves' program. Both teams eclipsed that moment this season, with Gonzaga tripling its tournament win total last weekend in Seattle while Xavier also advanced with its first NCAA victories since 2001.

Both teams also utterly dominated their respective conferences with perfect regular-season efforts and championship runs through league tournaments.