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Gonzaga Women's Basketball

‘Really proud of her.’ Gonzaga’s Lisa Fortier makes pit stop in Vegas to watch Courtney Vandersloot at WNBA Finals

Courtney Vandersloot, center, reacts with her wife Allie Quigley, left, and Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier during a ceremony to honor Vandersloot last February.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

LAS VEGAS – Lisa Fortier’s Wednesday morning and afternoon in Las Vegas included a handful of obligations at West Coast Conference Media Day.

Photo shoots, television promos, one interview station after another.

Fortier embraces the opportunities to promote Gonzaga women’s basketball program, but it wouldn’t have been hard to blame the 10th-year coach for wanting to skip ahead to her evening plans.

After wrapping up at media day, Fortier planned to make a short trip across town to watch Courtney Vandersloot and the New York Liberty take on the Las Vegas Aces in Game 2 of the WNBA Finals.

It wasn’t until late last week during a conversation with her husband Craig, an assistant for the Zags women, that Fortier realized she could swing over to Michelob ULTRA Arena – roughly 3 miles south on the Vegas Strip – to watch Vandersloot in one of the biggest moments of her WNBA career.

(Full disclosure, Fortier was planning to catch a game either way. That she was already in Vegas made things more convenient.)

“I asked my husband when the games are,” Fortier said. “He said, ‘They take so long (between games), it’s Sunday and Wednesday.’

“Wednesday? Wednesday’s great.”

Fortier was an assistant under former GU coach Kelly Graves during Vandersloot’s college career from 2007-11. She was an important mentor to the three-time WCC Player of the Year and Nancy Lieberman Award (nation’s top point guard) recipient.

The two still trade texts on a fairly frequent basis throughout the WNBA season. Fortier sent a message to the five-time All-Star guard before Gonzaga’s longtime coach went through the media day circuit with current Bulldogs players Yvonne Ejim, Eliza Hollingsworth and Brynna Maxwell .

“I reminded her, she knows how proud I am of her and how excited I am for her to play today and just to be there to support her,” Fortier said.

In her 13th WNBA season, Vandersloot was again the league’s top facilitator, leading all players with 8.1 assists per game while averaging 10.5 points and 3.5 rebounds.

Since 2017, Vandersloot has led the league in assists all but one time and been named to the All-WNBA first and second teams on five occasions.

Fortier also watched Vandersloot in the 2021 WNBA Finals, attending Game 2 against the Phoenix Mercury. Vandersloot’s Chicago Sky won the series in four games, giving the former Zag her first WNBA title.

Sixteen years later, Fortier still finds herself in awe of Vandersloot’s versatility, skill and knowledge on the floor.

“I know her game really well,” Fortier said. “So I’m not a hater on any of these other point guards out there, but I just value what she does, and having coached her and having watched her continue to get better in the special way in which she can orchestrate the game – I’m not talking about the passing or the pushing or the tempo.

“Just the little things she does are special and I love as a coach sitting back and watching her do those things. Really proud of her.”

Originally, there was optimism that Fortier would have company at the WNBA Finals, but it didn’t materialize for the three GU players at media day to attend with their head coach.

“We did try and we failed,” Hollingsworth said.

“Our coach dangled the carrot in front of us and then yanked it away the last minute,” Maxwell said.

Most of Fortier’s roster had a chance to meet Vandersloot when she returned to Spokane to have her jersey number retired last season – the first women’s player at Gonzaga with that honor.

Fortier wore a Vandersloot Zags jersey during the ceremony at McCarthey Athletic Center, but she planned to don a New York Liberty T-shirt with her former player’s name and number at Game 2.

“I’m always going to be a huge fan and advocate for what she does,” Fortier said. “And also it’s a good reminder that right here at Gonzaga, you can go on to be a WNBA/NBA champion. We’ve got a lot of both sides of those and do a lot of great things.”