Bekkering gets second chance

Gonzaga’s Janelle Bekkering fought Pitt’s Shavonte Zellous for a loose ball at last year’s tournament.  (Associated Press)
Gonzaga’s Janelle Bekkering fought Pitt’s Shavonte Zellous for a loose ball at last year’s tournament. (Associated Press)

Zags junior from Canada expects better showing at NCAAs

So many good things have happened for Janelle Bekkering in the last year the “woulda, coulda, shoulda” moment was almost forgotten.

But because of that split second, all the good things mean more.

When Gonzaga was in Seattle last year for the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, they were in position for a second consecutive upset and a trip to the Sweet 16. Bekkering was at the heart of the heartbreaking 65-60 loss to Pittsburgh.

In the final minute of a one-point game, she was called for traveling in the open court.

“Obviously, at first I was kind of disappointed,” Bekkering said. “But it happens in basketball. I took more of a positive out of it, to get better, learn from it. If that situation comes up again, I’m pretty confident now whatever would happen I’d be able to make a better play.”

The Bulldogs (27-4) are headed back to Seattle for the NCAA tournament, no longer an underdog as the No. 7 seed in the first-round game against 10th-seeded North Carolina (19-11) in Saturday’s 7:30 p.m. game at UW’s Bank of America Arena.

Should the game come down to crunch time, Bekkering is confident she has done everything possible to be prepared.

Before she became the lock-down defender for the 18th-ranked Bulldogs, Bekkering traveled the world with the Canadian senior women’s national team.

“It was really fun, getting to travel to some really cool places,” she said. “International basketball is a lot faster game because of a 24-second shot clock (compared to the collegiate 30-second clock) and 8-second back court. It’s a lot more physical and you can get away with a lot more.”

The most important part of the experience for Bekkering came before the Canadians placed third in Brazil to qualify for this summer’s FIBA World Championships in Czech Republic.

“It definitely helped my confidence,” she said. “I didn’t think I’d make the team last summer. It was such a great experience. You really work on individual skills. I got more confidence through that. And playing more games, too, in that atmosphere.”

The national team experience also made her the most accomplished player in a basketball family from Taber, Alberta, though there is no bragging.

“I wouldn’t say I’m the best,” said Bekkering, the youngest of five. “I learned from them and I definitely had more opportunities.”

She wasn’t the first to migrate south. Henry, the middle child, spent two years at Eastern Washington before returning to finish in Alberta. He’s now playing in Holland, where his father was born. That’s another path his sister would like to follow.

“I really want to play in Europe for a couple of years,” she said. “I’m not really done in basketball.”

Bekkering has another year with the Bulldogs because she redshirted as a freshman after a knee injury. Though she missed GU’s first NCAA appearance, it turned out to be a “blessing” academically because she could lighten her load a little. She’ll finish her civil engineering degree next year and work on a business minor, as well as another NCAA berth.

That’s a secondary thought at the moment.

“I think qualifying for worlds is bigger, playing for your country on the biggest stage,” Bekkering said. “Qualifying for the NCAA tournament is the same kind of feeling. I’m just so pumped for Saturday.”

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