LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves has the best team in the West Coast Conference, but that doesn’t stop the nerves from visiting before every game.
It’s how Graves, and most coaches, are wired. Consider every scenario, fret over every aspect of your team and your opponent.
“I get pretty nervous. I hope I don’t show it, I hope I exert confidence,” Graves said. “I played for Gary Colson (at New Mexico) and he won 500-and-something games and he’d been around a long time. He told me that’s what kind of drove him away, but he also said if you don’t have those nerves you might think about doing something else.
“But when you have a point guard like Courtney (Vandersloot), she helps me be confident.”
No. 22 Gonzaga (26-4) will be heavily favored when it enters the WCC tournament in the semifinal round Sunday at 11 a.m. Top-seeded Gonzaga will take on No. 8 San Francisco, No. 5 Santa Clara (those teams square off today) or No. 4 Portland. In the other opener, No. 6 Loyola Marymount faces No. 7 San Diego. No. 3 Pepperdine awaits the winner and No. 2 Saint Mary’s enters in Sunday’s other semifinal.
Gonzaga was rarely tested while going unbeaten in the WCC regular season, beating opponents by an average of 27.3 points. The Bulldogs crushed second-place Saint Mary’s by 36 and 29. The teams that gave GU the toughest games are primarily on the other side of the bracket.
But Graves considers Portland, a likely opponent in the semis, a serious challenger.
“They’re the one team that I think can outscore us,” Graves said. “Some of the other teams are going to have a hard time outscoring us.”
Pepperdine led GU 40-31 with 14:35 left before the Bulldogs rallied for a 73-59 win three weeks ago.
“Pepperdine always seems to play us well,” Graves said. “They have the kind of athletes that can match up in the backcourt, especially with Courtney. If we don’t come to play, anybody can get us.”
The Bulldogs are projected as a No. 11 seed in ESPN.com’s latest bracket. If they make the NCAA tournament, they will play at the McCarthey Athletic Center in the first round.
Vandersloot, the three-time WCC player of the year, leads the nation in assists (9.9 per game) and the conference in scoring (18.7). She was joined on the All-WCC team by junior Katelan Redmon (17.4) and junior Kayla Standish (16.7). Redmon ranks second and Standish fourth in WCC scoring. Senior Janelle Bekkering (11.3 points) was honorable mention.
“Courtney realizes we have other kids that can play, it’s not all on her shoulders,” Graves said. “I have confidence in the team, I really do. We have a great group of seniors and we start five upperclassmen. They know what it takes.”