It’s a credit to Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves that he can tell a tale so well his team understands what he’s talking about even if they don’t know what he’s talking about.
On the 10th anniversary of Jackie Stiles leading Southwest Missouri State to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Final Four via the Spokane Regional, Graves thought, “Why not us?”
“Just creativity, just natural creativity,” Graves deadpanned about his story before his Bulldogs practiced at the Arena on Sunday afternoon. “I come up with all those things on sleepless nights when I’m sitting around doing nothing else.”
What Graves thought about was point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who has put up so many amazing numbers and set so many records it’s hard to keep track of them all.
“It’s more their status, both players that can take over a game, a little folk-heroish, at least Courtney is in these parts,” Graves said. “It’s just all rolled together – the blond hair, the same build, the same height, just lots of things.”
So to start the season, with the regional scheduled for Spokane, he spun his tale about Stiles and Vandersloot, who was 12 when that happened.
“I thought he was crazy,” Vandersloot said. “I was thinking, ‘What are you talking about? This isn’t even comparable.’ But when it comes down to it I guess it’s pretty comparable.”
The Bulldogs are right there, one win away, though 11th-seeded Gonzaga faces a monster challenge in top-seeded and second-ranked Stanford.
Stiles had 41 points as the Bears upended top-seeded Duke 81-71 in the Sweet 16 game, then had 32 in a 104-87 win over Washington in the regional championship.
“The single greatest moment was when we won that basketball game to get to the Final Four,” she said when the regional was last here in 2008. “Even though (Washington) was kind of like the home team the crowd was so great. They appreciated what we’d done.”
Fewer than 100 tickets remained for tonight’s game as of 4 p.m. Sunday. Any tickets still available can be purchased at ticketswest.com or by calling 325-SEAT. Also, the Arena box office will open at 10 this morning. All remaining tickets are $22.50.
Stanford sophomore Joslyn Tinkle might be the only Washington State opponent who calls the trip to Pullman her favorite.
Of course that gets her close to home, which is Missoula. And she has relatives in Walla Walla and Spokane, where her father, Wayne, was a standout for Ferris before he played at Montana, where he now coaches.
“I love the Washington trip,” she said.
Though both of her parents played basketball for the Grizzlies she said she wasn’t really pressured to stay home.
“I probably did disappoint a lot of people, but at the same time I have gotten a lot of great support from everyone at home, from Montana,” she said. “I think they realize this kind of opportunity I have, the caliber of this program. I couldn’t turn it down.”
Tinkle said she did consider Gonzaga.
“I think very highly of Coach Graves and his staff,” she said. “It’s close to home. But I’m happy where I am, that’s for sure.”
Eyes open, hands up
Last Monday, Vandersloot became the first NCAA basketball player with 2,000 points and 1,000 assists and in her last game set an NCAA single-season assist record.
Her teammates admit it took a little adjusting to keep up with her skills.
“One thing with Courtney, you always have to have your hands up,” Redmon said. “You may not think you’re open and the next thing you know the ball’s flying at you.”
Asked if that led to any scars, Kayla Standish said, “I don’t think we have any scars, but I knew we have got hit in the face a few times.”
Then Bowen said, “Maybe not physical scars, but mental scars.”