By Peter Tormey
LAS VEGAS – No surprise that the weather is warm and sunny again today with a high of 68 expected and not a cloud in the visible sky as the Gonzaga University women prepare to take the floor at noon in their bid to capture the 2011 Zappos.com West Coast Conference women’s basketball tournament, and earn the WCC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Tournament. The game will be aired on ESPNU.
On Sunday, the top-seeded (27-4) Gonzaga women, a peerless (14-0) in the regular season conference race, beat the No. 4-seed Pilots from University of Portland 96-71 to earn the right to advance to today’s championship game. They face the No. 2 seed Saint Mary’s Gaels (19-11), who beat No. 7 San Diego 71-68 in the second women’s semifinal Sunday.
Junior Kayla Standish, whose shooting Sunday was as hot as the Fourth of July on the Las Vegas Strip, scored 23 points and seniors Janelle Bekkering and Courtney Vandersloot combined for another 33 points to lead the Zags.
After the game, Graves was asked if they Zags like to run.
“Well, we lead the nation in scoring. We want to go, and when you have a point guard like that (Courtney Vandersloot), it’s what you’ve got to do,” Graves said. “I’m not the brightest guy in the world but I know you want to give her the basketball and let her go.”
Asked what makes Vandersloot so special, Graves said her outstanding anticipation, quickness and vision all combine to make her a special player.
“I’ve had several Hall of Fame coaches who have said she’s the best pocket passer they’ve ever seen,” Graves said. “If you notice, she’s getting the basketball right where they (teammates) can do something with it. There’s a reason why she’s got 1,000-plus assists; they catch the ball and it’s right there for the shot.”
Graves said Vandersloot committed to Gonzaga early, as a junior in high school, and he had not seen much of her aside from watching her in practice one time. When Vandersloot and her parents came to Gonzaga to visit, Graves said he simply assumed there was a part of her game that needed work.
“I always like to say ‘you do this and this and this well, but this is where you need to work,” Graves said. “I didn’t know her very well and she had big numbers scoring, so I said ‘I just think you can be a better passer and can work on your passing.’ Then my assistant hit me and said to me, ‘What are you talking about? Are you kidding me?’ That shows you how much I know.”
Graves said the thing he was most impressed with in Sunday’s game was that his “big three” trio of players – Standish, Redmon and Vandersloot combined for only 14 points in the first half, but the Zags still won handily.
“So we got good support from the bench and our other players,” he said. “If we do that we’re going to be tough, and as you saw in the second half they kind of asserted themselves.”
Graves added he has no major concerns heading into the women’s championship game today.
“No. I think we’re healthy I think everyone got their needed rest, so no, I think things are good,” he said. “No excuses.”