LAS VEGAS – In blowouts with little cause for anyone to keep watching, Courtney Vandersloot always makes a compelling case to the contrary.
On Monday, it happened with five minutes left in Gonzaga’s 72-46 wipeout of Saint Mary’s for a third consecutive West Coast Conference women’s basketball tournament championship. Driving the baseline, Vandersloot not only had her own defender as a shadow but saw the looming specter of the Gaels’ 6-foot-4 Louella Tomlinson, the nation’s leading shotblocker.
So she momentarily froze them both by faking a pass outside, then kissed a reverse layup off the glass for the last of her 18 points.
“Seeing Louella in the paint, it’s tough to get a shot up,” she said. “If I’d gone straight up she’d throw it up into the stands, so I had to go for the under and use that rim as protection.”
Call the move her Naismith pose.
In the hours before the title game, the senior from Kent, Wash., was named the 2011 recipient of the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award, presented annually by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame to the nation’s outstanding female collegiate player who stands 5-foot-8 or less.
Previous winners include multi-time WNBA All-Star Becky Hammon, Olympic gold medalists Kara Lawson and Suzie McConnell, Baylor coach Kim Mulkey – and Gonzaga’s Maria Stack, who followed Mulkey as the second recipient in 1985.
Vandersloot only solidified the choice with a title game performance that made her tournament MVP for the third straight year – breaking the single-game assist record she set just 25 hours before with 16 – in a game televised on ESPNU.
“She had a couple of moves tonight that were in her top 10,” said Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves. “The one along the baseline was maybe the best I’ve ever seen.
“It’s amazing what she does on a night-in, night-out basis. We see it all the time, but it was great that a national TV audience could see what we know. She’s such a great competitor. You run out of adjectives at some point, but the bottom line is she’s a winner.”
The Bulldogs, too. In fact, what happens in Vegas, stays with Gonzaga – the Zags have won every WCC tournament played here.
This one had slightly more drama than expected – GU had blasted the Gaels by 29 and 40 points this season. But Vandersloot had assists to Kayla Standish and Katelan Redmon on buckets seven seconds apart to put Gonzaga up 28-20 at intermission, and then had a hand in five of the first six Zags scores in the second half.
She even swatted a shot by SMC’s Jasmine Smith into the seats as the Bulldogs blew the lead out to 20 points – a moment she enjoyed even more than the baseline move “because of the timing. It really got the team going, especially on the defensive end,” she said.
Now she’s looking forward to bringing the act back to McCarthey Athletic Center for an encore – the Zags hosting games the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament.
“I think we’re going to surprise some people,” she said. “We made a good run last year, but we’re not settling for that. We want to stretch it out and go even beyond. We’re capable of it.”