LAS VEGAS – It had all the elements of a typical Gonzaga women’s basketball rout of an overmatched opponent, and a couple others that were particularly satisfying for head coach Kelly Graves.
On a day when Courtney Vandersloot set a WCC Tournament record with 14 assists and mainstays Kayla Standish (23 points) and Katelan Redmon (12 points, eight rebounds) made their customary contributions, Gonzaga also received a big effort from Janelle Bekkering, its bench and its defense in crushing Portland 96-71 in front of 2,383 Sunday at the Orleans Arena.
Bekkering had 15 points and Vandersloot nine assists in the first half as Gonzaga built a 44-21 lead.
“What I was most impressed with was the fact our Big Three (Vandersloot, Redmon and Standish), the number 1, 2 and 4 scorers in the conference, had only scored 14 points (by halftime),” Graves said. “We had good support from the bench and the other players. If we do that, we’re going to be tough.”
The top-seeded and 22th-ranked Zags (27-4), winners of 17 straight, will meet No. 2 Saint Mary’s for the championship at noon today. The Gaels beat No. 7 San Diego in the second semifinal, 71-68. GU has won the last two titles and three of four.
Gonzaga’s defense set the tone early as Vandersloot swiped Portland’s first pass. After misfiring on a number of open looks in the first 4 minutes, the Bulldogs’ transition game clicked in and they went on a 24-2 run to take a 30-9 lead.
The fourth-seeded Pilots (16-15) struggled to score. Guard ReZina TecleMariam, who had 28 points in a quarterfinal win over Santa Clara, found little room to operate while Vandersloot, Bekkering, Redmon, Kelly Bowen and Jazmine Redmon took turns defending her.
“They do a good job of getting a little taller people on her,” Pilots coach Jim Sollars said. “I was disappointed Bekkering wasn’t named defensive player of the year in the conference. For the last two years, she’s been by far the best defender in our league.
“So when you have the top three players in the conference and another kid (Bekkering) that really should have been in the top 10 and she’s the best defensive player, you’re going to intimidate people.”
Bekkering, needing 12 points, easily surpassed 1,000 career points.
“I didn’t realize it during the game,” Bekkering said. “Liz (Smith, GU assistant sports information director) told me afterward. That’s kind of nice.”
Standish poured in 19 of her 23 points in the second half as Gonzaga led by as many as 30. Vandersloot finished with 16 points and four steals, and appreciated an occasional break from guarding TecleMariam.
“It does help,” Vandersloot said. “Janelle and I are a little bit different defensively. Just when you figure out one, the coaches switch it up.”
Graves praised Vandersloot’s defense, which often is overlooked because she leads the nation in assists and is the WCC’s top scorer.
And her passing has come a long way, too, right Coach?
“She committed to us early in her junior year and I hadn’t really seen her other than at one high school practice,” said Graves, in full storytelling mode. “My staff loved her. When she came over on an unofficial visit, her parents sat down and I always like to say (to recruits), ‘You do this and this and this well, but this is where you need to work.’ I didn’t know her very well. She had big numbers scoring, so I said, ‘I just think you could be a better passer, really work on your passing.’
“And my assistant hits me, ‘What are you talking about?’ Obviously I didn’t blow it, she stuck with her commitment.”
Claire Rapp’s 10 points led a 24-point bench effort. The Bulldogs made 57 percent of their shots and had 25 assists on 41 baskets.
TecleMariam made three 3s in the second half and finished with 14 points. Sophomore Sarah Kliewer, a Lewis and Clark product, scored 12 points.
Saint Mary’s 71, San Diego 68
Danielle Mauldin’s three-point play with 42.9 seconds left gave Saint Mary’s the lead and Kate Gaze made four free throws as the Gaels (19-11) held off the Toreros. Louella Tomlinson led SMC with 21 points and nine boards.
Gonzaga thumped the Gaels 106-77 and 102-66 during the regular season.
“You can’t let Gonzaga get into space,” Gaels coach Paul Thomas said. “We’re going to have do our best to make it a grinder game. If we can keep the game in the 60s I think we have an opportunity.”