For those who wondered what the Gonzaga women’s basketball team would do when faced with meaningful possessions down the stretch of a close game, the answer was revealed Saturday afternoon – give the ball to Courtney Vandersloot or Kayla Standish and get out of the way.
With that duo taking turns making critical baskets, 11th-seeded Gonzaga edged six-seeded Iowa 92-86 Saturday afternoon in the first round of the NCAA women’s basketball Tournament before sellout crowd of 5,632 delirious fans at McCarthey Athletic Center.
In a game for the ages, Vandersloot scored 34 points and Standish 30, both career highs. Of their combined 64 points, 40 came in the second half as the Bulldogs overcame a 44-37 deficit to win a tournament game for the third straight year.
“We couldn’t do anything to stop Standish, she was excellent,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said. “And Vandersloot, obviously, another great game for her. She’s terrific. It will be fun to watch her at the next level.”
Vandersloot had seven assists and made all 11 of her free throws, including six in the final minute.
“We had to execute in the half court for a good portion of that second half and we did,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “It’s something we work on every day even though we haven’t had the opportunity for a couple months in a game to really have to make a play or make a stop.”
“This I’m sure will give the team confidence that we can do it.”
The 20th-ranked Bulldogs (29-4) take a 19-game winning streak into Monday’s 6:30 game against third-seed and eighth-ranked UCLA (28-4), which ground out a 55-47 win over 14th-seeded Montana.
The point of separation for Gonzaga, if there was one, came just after the midway point of the second half.
A 3-pointer by sophomore Jaime Printy, who led Iowa with 25 points to surpass 1,000, tied the game at 65 with 9:18 to play but Standish responded with back-to-back baskets to start an 8-0 run that Katelan Redmon and Claire Rapp completed. The Zags never trailed again but that was the big lead of the game.
But for all the jabs from the Bulldogs, especially by Standish who made 11 of 12 baskets, the Hawkeyes (22-9) countered, with four of their school-record 13 3-pointers coming in the final six minutes when the Zags threatened to get away.
“Just taking care of the ball was important, being strong around the rim,” said Standish, who was 15 of 20 for the game. “Morgan Johnson is a good shoot blocker. I was conscious of that, trying to pull her away from the rim.”
Kachine Alexander had 18 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists for Iowa and Kelly Krie added 15 points.
“They have a great crowd here,” Alexander said. “We knew they were a great team anyway so playing on the home court gave them even more of an advantage.”
It was a frantic first half with the teams tied at 25 at the midpoint as they traded little surges. But the Hawkeyes finished the half on a 15-4 run over 6 minutes for a 44-37 lead. The Hawkeyes knocked down half of their 14 3’s and made 9 of 12 free throws, while making up a rebounding deficit to lead 23-20.
The Zags, who struggled to finish inside, had cooled to 40 percent, which offset their 10 steals. They were just 2 of 7 from 3-point range and 1 of 4 from the foul line.
After Vandersloot’s 16 points, Standish had eight but she missed eight minutes with two fouls. The Hawkeyes were much more balanced behind Krei’s 12 points, built on three 3’s.
“I can’t remember an exact (turning) point,” Vandersloot said. “We never thought we were out of it. At halftime we just needed to make a few adjustments.
“We weren’t knocking shots down that we usually do. We thought they would start falling for us. We needed to pick up the intensity because Iowa is a great team. They capitalize on any mistake you make defensively so we knew we had to tighten up and focus on the perimeter.”
The second half was a little different with Gonzaga, which scored the first seven points to tie it, shooting 57 percent with a plus-10 in rebounding, while the Hawkeyes shot 42 percent.
Janelle Bekkering and Katelan Redmon combined for 21 points for the Bulldogs with Redmon getting nine rebounds.