Stanford was still reveling in its 83-60 victory that ended the greatest season in Gonzaga women’s basketball history Monday night when the inevitable question was posed to Kelly Graves.
With the University of Washington looking for a women’s basketball coach would the Bulldogs coach be back to try to build on a 31-5 season that ended with a third straight trip to the NCAA tournament and first trip to the Elite Eight?
“I know the questions are coming,” he said. “I’m very happy where I’m at.”
Asked to elaborate, he added: “We have a great recruiting class coming in. There’s no reason this is going to stop. We’re going to miss some great seniors, but I think we’re here for good – and this run is going to help our recruiting even more. I’m looking forward to the future.”
Which means he’ll stay put to enjoy it.
“Oh, yes, I will be,” he said emphatically.
The Bulldogs are headed to the Final Four in Indianapolis – at least part of them. Courtney Vandersloot is headed there.
The coaching staff is going with her, to give a clinic on transition offense. Despite their second-lowest output of the season, the Bulldogs were the highest scoring team in the nation.
Senior superstar point guard Vandersloot is off to receive the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award for the best player 5-foot-8 or under.
“I’m excited for the experience but I’d rather be bringing my jerseys than dress-up clothes,” she said. “It’s hard right now. I’m just so happy with everything I got to accomplish. I’m excited for some down time before the future starts, to reflect on everything I did with this team.
“I know it’s a cliché but I credit everything to them. I have such amazing teammates and they make me better every single day. I wouldn’t be in the spot I am without them. I’m so proud to be a Zag.”
Vandersloot is also expected to go in the first round of the WNBA draft, which is April 11, six days after the NCAA championship game.
Players and coaches from both teams had nothing but superlatives to share about the 11,646 in the Spokane Arena.
“We love it here,” Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said. “It was a first-class tournament and the fact that 11,000 people came out to watch women’s basketball is a compliment to the community and the excitement that Kelly has developed and brought to Spokane.”
Stanford junior forward Nnemkadi Ogwumike, who was named the Spokane Regional most valuable player, was impressed with the noise created by the throng.
“(The crowd) was roaring,” she said. “I remember when we first ran out (for warmups) and they (the Bulldogs) ran out and I don’t think I’ve ever heard a gym that loud. It was amazing.”
Time to reflect
For obvious reasons, tears flowed in Gonzaga’s locker room.
None of the Bulldogs wanted their season to be over. But in time they will reflect on all the feats.
Junior starting forward Kelly Bowen talked about the accomplishments and disappointment in her usual frank manner.
“Unbelievable, unreal, it was awesome,” Bowen said. “It sucks right now. It just sucks that you have to finish on a loss and that’s the end because it hurts.
“Everyone will reflect and go home and sort of think about it and next week you can hold your head up high and walk through campus and feel good about the year.
“We made history and we did a lot of good things for Spokane and our school. We have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be excited about the future.”
Junior starting post Kayla Standish agreed.
“It’s hard to think about it now coming off a loss, but we just had the best year that Gonzaga basketball has ever had,” Standish said. “It’s hard to think about it now but in a couple of weeks when it’s all settled in it will be a great feeling.”
Senior assistant coach Jodie Kaczor Berry said much praise must be heaped on the five seniors – Vandersloot, Janelle Bekkering, Carter Schick, Tatriana Lorenzo and Claire Raap.
“When you think back about our season you think about the seniors,” Berry said. “It starts with Courtney but it’s not just Courtney. We have five great players, great people, great leaders. They kind of get everybody going. Look at their trend. Their sophomore year we win one game in the NCAA tournament. Next year we go to the Sweet 16. Now this year we won three games (in the NCAA tournament). It’s that group. They were all contributors.”
What a freshman
Stanford forward Chiney Ogwumike, who scored 18 points and had 15 rebounds, was the lone freshman named to the all-tournament team.
Her sister, junior Nnmedkadi, was named the tourney’s most valuable player after scoring a team-high 23 points to go with 11 rebounds.
Older sister said she and some teammates had to remind Chiney at times to remain calm.
“Anyone here (in the locker room) can tell you how many times I said, ‘Oh my God!’” Chiney said. “I really was emotional before the game because the seniors are just fabulous people and I don’t want to stop playing with them. I did not sleep last night.
“I was so anxious, excited and eager.”
Chiney attended the last two Final Fours as a fan to support her sister. Now she can’t wait to play in one with her sister.
“I wanted the opportunity really bad,” Chiney said. “I went (before) but it’s different – it’s being the little sister and not being able to be with the team.
“All year we had expectations of ourselves (to get to the Final Four). I’m really, really happy that we have the chance now.”