LAS VEGAS – Somebody suggested it would be a good time to pick Gonzaga’s All-Vegas team.
Can’t do it, I demurred. No credibility. I’m never up at 5 a.m. to see which Zags fans are still blinking through the cigarette haze and piling up chips at the Orleans Casino craps tables – and somehow still manage to make their tee times.
No, they said. Basketball.
Oh. Well, that’s different.
In fact, we’re overdue. The West Coast Conference marked its first decade of staging its tournament in Las Vegas without such acknowledgment, and now that it’s embarking on Year 12, there are almost too many candidates. But if the Democrats can whittle down their derby field, so can we.
All we need to do is stake out some criteria and …
You know what? The hell with that.
This is the All-Vegas team. If we’re going to be true to the venue, there’s going to be as much gut feeling as mind-numbing metrics in this enterprise. For every horseplayer in the sports book poring over the Daily Racing Form, there’s a guy at the roulette table putting his bankroll down on his shoe size.
For instance, it’s tempting to go all-in and declare the Vegas years’ Gonzaga men’s MVP to be … David Stockton.
Why? After all, he scored just four points in the 2014 championship game. Yet he still made the all-tournament team, because while voters were filling out their ballots, he was carving up BYU with seven assists.
But mostly he makes it for the driving, corkscrew layup that beat Santa Clara 77-75 in Gonzaga’s opener. Now, maybe the Zags win in overtime anyway, and maybe they still get an at-large bid to the NCAA even if they lose to the No. 9 seed in Vegas. And maybe not. The thing is, they didn’t have to find out.
And the bonus is, former Santa Clara coach Kerry Keating to this day can keep bringing up the fact that Stockton used a forearm to nudge defender Denzel Johnson and clear the path. Even Stockton copped to it.
That was the same night that Stockton’s little sister, Laura, won a state championship with her Gonzaga Prep teammates. Two years later, she would play in the first of four WCC tournaments. And while coach Lisa Fortier might not go so far as to make her GU’s all-time Vegas MVP – Stockton scored just 52 points in eight games at the Orleans – she embodies something else about tournament play.
“In March, the stakes and competition go up a level and in the big moment, she played better.” Fortier said. “That’s not always about more shooting or scoring. It’s about more stopping and rebounding and hustle plays, and that was Laura.”
And timing. Her seven points in 2018’s title game all came in the second quarter, when the Zags flipped a seven-point deficit into a lead they never surrendered.
So with those caveats, let’s get to the jackpot: Gonzaga’s All-Vegas teams.
Killian Tillie: After he made 13 of 14 3-pointers in a 72-point blitz in 2018, it’s a wonder some gambler didn’t drag him off to the casino to pull levers on slots all night.
Nigel Williams-Goss: Here’s where stats come in handy. His averages over three nights in 2017: 22.3 points, 7.3 rebounds, 5 assists. GU wasn’t losing this tournament in any case, but Williams-Goss wasn’t leaving anything to chance, either.
Marquise Carter: Perhaps the most improbable hero in GU’s two-decade run with a midseason emergence from a hellish limbo on the bench. In 2011, the Zags needed to win the WCC tournament to keep their NCAA streak alive. Carter was the unquestioned MVP, especially after scoring nine points in the final 2:53 of a semifinal escape after San Francisco had cut Gonzaga’s lead to two points.
Eric McClellan: Righting an old wrong here. As in 2011, the 2016 Zags are an NIT team if they don’t come through in Vegas. Nobody came through like McClellan – yet somehow, he averaged better than 20 points in three games and wasn’t voted to the all-tournament team. He’s a lock for this one.
Kyle Wiltjer (MVP): Since he won that award twice, it’s hard to deny him here. Only Zags Adam Morrison and Dan Dickau and Loyola Marymount’s Hank Gathers have done the same, and Wiltjer’s had-to-have-it 2016 performance rivals Dickau’s in 2002.
Second team: Domantas Sabonis (19.0 points, 8.7 rebounds in 2016), Elias Harris (2013 MVP), Johnathan Williams (GU’s Vegas single-tourney rebound leader), Zach Norvell Jr. (2018 all-tourney snub, 12 of 22 from 3), Sam Dower Jr. (2014 MVP).
Apologies to: Micah Downs (2009 MVP), Steven Gray (twice all-tournament), Przemek Karnowski (ditto), Gary Bell Jr. (2014 snub), David Stockton (see above).
Kayla Standish: She should have been the conference’s Player of the Year in 2012, but the coaches opted for someone who finished 16th in scoring instead. She would have been MVP of the tournament, except Gonzaga didn’t win. Still, her 49 points is still a Vegas best for Zags in a two-game tournament.
Sunny Greinacher: She was all-tournament in 2015 and MVP the year before – and that doesn’t even count her surge in the 2013 championship game, when she scored 10 points in the second half as the Zags outslugged San Diego 62-50.
Lindsay Sherbert: Another case of timing being everything. A solid contributor for two seasons after transferring from Cal, she was never an all-WCC player. But in the 2014 tournament, she was aces from 3 (8 of 13) and scored 46 points as GU swept to the title.
Jill Barta: Her 22.3 scoring average over three tournaments is a Gonzaga best. In back-to-back MVP turns she scored 147 points, shot nearly 50 percent from 3-point range and made 33 of 36 free throws. Meaning she could only be upstaged by …
Courtney Vandersloot (MVP): It only seemed like half of her 1,118 career assists came in Vegas. In two games in 2011, she had 30 of them – and a hand in almost 60% of Gonzaga’s points. That seems like a lot.
Second team: Heather Bowman (twice all-tourney), Janelle Bekkering (11 second-half points in 2009 title game), Haiden Palmer (2013 MVP), Zykera Rice (twice all-tourney), Laura Stockton (see above).
Apologies to: Jazmine Redmon (2014 all-tourney), Emma Stach (16 of 31 from 3), Taelor Karr (10 second-half points in 2012 title game), Kiara Kudron (best single-year rebounding performance: 27 boards in 2017).
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