The Courtney Vandersloot era ended with a standing ovation, a wry smile and a wave to the 11,646 fans who filled the Arena on Monday night hoping for so much more.
Despite a heroic effort from the superstar point guard, Gonzaga, the lowest seed to ever make an Elite Eight, was no match for Stanford’s size. The top-seeded Cardinal laid an 83-60 whipping on the 11th-seeded Bulldogs in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament Spokane Regional final.
“They’re just a better team than us,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “We’re not there yet. We would have had to play a perfect game. It’s not to say that on any given night we couldn’t play with a team like that but they would have to be a little off.”
And Stanford (33-2) was anything but off in running its winning streak to 27 heading into its fourth straight Final Four, which is in Indianapolis next weekend. The Cardinal shot an insane 64.5 percent in the first half and only another stunning effort by Vandersloot, who had 21 first-half points, kept the Bulldogs (31-5) within shouting distance.
Shortly after a 9-0 Stanford spurt made it 22-12, Vandersloot scored 18 straight points for the Bulldogs, but the Cardinal still led 47-38 at the break.
“We felt pretty good at halftime,” Gonzaga senior Janelle Bekkering said. “We knew that we’re a team that can make a comeback. We showed that in the previous (tournament) games.”
Then the roof caved in, despite the best effort of the crowd.
Stanford, led by All-Regional sisters Nnemkadi and Chiney Ogwumike, opened the second half with a 14-2 run. Vandersloot had Gonzaga’s basket, her last, while the sisters combined for a dozen points. That 61-40 lead with little more than 13 minutes left effectively ended the game.
Gonzaga, which matched the Cardinal on the boards in an early-season six-point loss, got pounded 29-12 on the glass in the second half and 49-25 for the game.
“They’re so strong and they’re so athletic,” Gonzaga’s 6-foot-2 forward Kayla Standish said. “You body them up and they’re going around you. Their inside really hurt us.”
Nnemkadi Ogwumike, a 6-2 junior and the regional MVP, led the Cardinal with 23 points and 11 rebounds. Chiney Ogwumike, a 6-3 freshman, had 18 and 15, and 6-4 senior Kayla Pedersen, also an all-tournament pick, had 23 and 11.
For good measure, 6-foot senior point guard Jeanette Pohlen, who came into the game mired in a horrendous shooting slump, added 17 points, hitting 5 of 8 3-pointers.
“I just said to her you need to take open shots, period,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “If nothing else, you got people in there rebounding so if you miss, so what?”
But for all of that, it was Stanford’s shift to a zone that did the Bulldogs in.
“Courtney Vandersloot, the basket got really big for her,” VanDerveer said. “That happened once to me in my whole life. She’s just a great shooter and we had to do something different.”
She said the coaches spent halftime talking about defensive adjustments, and the assistants suggested a zone.
“I said, ‘All right, let’s look at it,’” VanDerveer said. “And we were able to stay in it the whole second half.”
Vandersloot lost her effectiveness and the Bulldogs proceeded to shoot 23.5 percent. Vandersloot, an all-tournament pick, made just 1 of 7 second-half shots after going 7 of 11 in the first half, including three 3-pointers.
“I wasn’t getting the shot attempts,” she said. “They’re long in there … they’re able to cover a lot of ground with that zone. It’s tough.”
Vandersloot finished with 25 points and nine assists, giving her 117 and 40 in four tournament games.
“I didn’t do a good job as a coach,” Graves said. “We do some things and we tried everything we do against a zone. … How many times did we miss (shots) we typically make? Tonight we didn’t. You’ve got to credit them. Those hands come up a little bit faster and they’re a little bit longer and I think we lost some confidence. This is a game you have to be confident.”
Standish finished with 17 points but after making her first four shots she finished 7 of 16. Katelan Redmon had 13 points but made just 6 of 21 shots.