Gonzaga women beat Bruins, return to Sweet 16
Gonzaga ran right past UCLA straight to the Spokane Arena on Monday night.
The 11th-seeded Bulldogs shredded the vaunted defense of the third-seeded Bruins for an 89-75 win in the second round of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament at the McCarthey Athletic Center to reach the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row.
The Bulldogs (30-4) take a 20-game winning streak into a game Saturday night against the winner of tonight’s game between second-seeded Xavier and seventh-seeded Louisville. Top-seeded Stanford meets fifth-seeded North Carolina in the other game. UCLA finished 28-5.
Gonzaga did it with a one-two punch of Courtney Vandersloot and Kayla Standish and some body shots from their teammates.
Vandersloot had 29 points, pushing her past 2,000 for her career and making her the first person in NCAA history to reach that milestone along with 1,000 career assists. She emphasized that with a career-high 17 assists, tying the school record. She also had seven rebounds and five steals.
As for Standish, she continued her other-worldly shooting, making 11 of 14 shots to reach 30 points for the second-straight game, a first in school history. She did it by making 26 of 35 shots.
“(Courtney) and Kayla literally took the game with two hands and took it over,” GU junior Kelly Bowen said. “There was nothing UCLA could do. They had no answer.”
Standish closed her scoring with a step-back 3-pointer that broke a 58-58 tie with 10:22 to play. After a UCLA miss, Vandersloot hit a 3 and proceeded to score 19 of the last 28 points for the Bulldogs.
“Gonzaga played an extremely great game, executed down the stretch when they needed to,” UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell said. “When you’re playing this time of the year, big players make big plays, and honestly, they were able to make bigger plays than we were.”
Despite having their top two scorers miss half of the first half with two fouls apiece, the Bruins led 38-35 at intermission.
Then the unspeakable happened to a team that only allowed one team to reach 80 points (Notre Dame in double overtime) and limited teams to 38 percent shooting – Gonzaga scored 54 points in the second half on 64 percent shooting.
“At every timeout I said, ‘I love the tempo, I love the tempo,’” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “Can they do it for 40 minutes because I know we can.”
It started with Standish. After the Bruins scored the first three points of the half, the Zags quickly reeled off 11, the last nine by Standish. She ended up pouring in 18 in 10 minutes.
“Kayla carried the weight for a lot of the time, and it’s tough to do, playing down low, playing against big aggressive posts,” Vandersloot said. “At some point, someone needed to step up with her. That’s something great about our team, we have players that can do that.”
Katelan Redmon had 15 points and Janelle Bekkering knocked down a cold-blooded 3-pointer after missing her first five when the Zags were clinging to a 74-68 lead with less than 4 minutes to go.
“I definitely knew I was struggling from the floor,” Bekkering said. “I just knew I had to keep on shooting it. When I made the sixth one I was happy.”
“I just thought every time they challenged … we would come down and answer,” Graves said. “Janelle struggled tonight, but boy did she hit a big 3 when we needed it.”
By then, UCLA’s vaunted presses, which forced 11 turnovers in the first half, were of no help.
“I don’t think we came as aggressive as we should have,” said guard Darxia Morris, who led UCLA with 20 points. “We broke down in our press a few times and Gonzaga did a good job breaking our press. It was our defensive breakdowns that really got to us. We just let it get to our heads.”
Even though Vandersloot had eight turnovers, she caused the Bruins nightmares.
“Whatever press we threw at them, we weren’t aggressive,” said Jasmine Dixon, who had 18 points, 10 rebounds. “She was able to do whatever she wanted to do.”
The Bruins only scored more than 75 points twice this season but seemed perfectly comfortable with the pace.
“I don’t know if they set out to (run) but I think the pace of the game, Courtney’s ability to get through their pressure, it’s one of those natural things that just happened as the game went on,” Graves said. “They’re certainly capable of running. We knew that. They’re not a grind-it-out-all-the-time (team), they’re an opportunity fast break team, and we gave them opportunities.”