For the first time the Gonzaga women’s basketball team sold out McCarthey Athletic Center on its own merit.
Judging by the ovations, it was pretty easy to determine why.
Before the 23rd-ranked Bulldogs dispatched San Diego 80-58 Saturday afternoon, 6,000 fans paid homage to the most successful class in program history.
The five seniors go into next weekend’s West Coast Conference tournament in Las Vegas with a 107-25 career record, including 49-4 at home, and have won 30 straight regular-season WCC games. They play a week from today at 11 a.m. in the semifinals, riding a 16-game winning streak with 34 straight wins against WCC opponents.
It was an emotional ceremony for Janelle Bekkering, Tatri Lorenzo, Claire Rapp, Carter Schick and two-time league MVP and All-American Courtney Vandersloot, whose trademark composure almost cracked in the emotional pregame ceremony.
Odds are they will be back for an encore with GU (26-4, 14-0) hosting the first weekend of the NCAA tournament and with the Bulldogs expected to earn their third straight trip.
The two previous sellouts were against Tennessee in December 2008 when the Lady Vols were defending national champions, and third-ranked Stanford in November. Next was a crowd of 5,825 on senior day in 2005, when the Zags won the first of their seven straight league titles in the first year McCarthey opened.
Vandersloot, who set a career record with her 130th game, made sure there wouldn’t be any surprises, scoring all 13 of her first-half points in the first nine minutes. Her two three-point plays and a 3-pointer ballooned a 10-9 lead to 21-15. Two more baskets by Katelan Redmon made it 25-15 and the redshirt junior, who ceded her starting spot for the day, went on to score 14 in the half. She had all eight points in a closing 8-0 run for a 42-24 advantage.
“I’ve been dreading this speech since my freshman year,” Vandersloot said after the game when the seniors addressed the crowd. “Little did I know I would be doing it before a sold-out crowd.
“This team has had a lot of great accomplishments; I’ve had a lot of great accomplishments because of this team. When it comes down to it, this is what I’m going to remember,” she added, gesturing to the crowd and her teammates.
Although Gonzaga came up short of its nation-leading average of 86 points per game, it was a high-scoring game for as many times as San Diego (15-13, 5-9) ran down the shot clock.
GU put together a few runs in the second half to push the lead as high as 27, but an uncharacteristic 14 turnovers and 15-of-24 free-throw shooting hampered the usually smooth-flowing offense.
“I thought defensively we did some good things,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “They played hard to the end. We were a little off, but that’s OK. To some degree it’s to be expected on a day like this.”