March 28, 2011
STANFORD WOMEN'S PAGE
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Before every season, Kelly Graves tries to find a theme to help define the year for Gonzaga. It can be a rallying cry or just a general picture of what Gonzaga's coach believes the Bulldogs can accomplish.When he saw that not only would Gonzaga be hosting first- and second-round games in the NCAA tournament this year, but the regional was also being played in the Bulldogs' home town, Graves latched on to what Southwest Missouri State - now Missouri State - accomplished a decade ago as the last team from outside the six major conferences to reach the women's Final Four.RELATED: Women's college basketball headlines
"I just thought that with the regional being in Spokane - I had no idea we would be sent there, but I knew that it was a possibility and at least early in the year it was something I could play on," Graves said. "And (I) just tried to paint the picture." Sometime Graves' revision of what Jackie Stiles did in leading Missouri State to the Final Four in 2001 - by winning a regional held in Spokane - became ad nauseam for his players. Courtney Vandersloot thinks it's numbering about 10 the times that Graves has recited a version of the story."I think the last time I said, 'Coach, we know the story. We're ready for this. You don't need to tell it again'" Gonzaga forward Katelan Redmon said.Whether it proved motivating or not, the Bulldogs (31-4) will get their chance to match what Stiles did a decade ago when 11th-seeded Gonzaga faces top-seeded Stanford (32-2) in the Spokane Regional final on Monday night.ROSTERSSTATS: Gonzaga Stanford
In the last 20 years, only four different schools - Missouri State, Old Dominion, Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky - from outside the six-conference power belt of college sports have reached the Final Four. For the Bulldogs to make a little history, they'll need to take down the powers of the West Coast, as Stanford tries for a fourth straight Final Four trip and 10th overall."I wouldn't say that we're even the favorite to win here tomorrow. We're playing in Spokane, Gonzaga's here, they're a wonderful team, they're playing in their city and it's a really great environment to play in," Stanford's Nnemkadi Ogwumike said. "And honestly, I think that coach put it best, people are going to give us their best game no matter what. It doesn't matter, the numbers do not matter."
REWIND: Stanford gets past UNC in regional semis
Gonzaga is already the lowest seed in tournament history to reach the Elite Eight, but its success comes with the asterisk of playing No. 6 seed Iowa and third-seeded UCLA on its home floor across town, before dispatching seventh-seeded Louisville 76-69 in the regional semifinals on Saturday night.It's been the source of some criticism that Gonzaga could reach the Final Four without leaving town. Stanford coach Tara VanDerveer said Sunday the NCAA should look into making sure this situation doesn't occur again."Probably in fairness to teams ... maybe something that the NCAA might look at doing is if you're hosting a regional - which I know officially (Gonzaga's) not - that maybe you can't host a first and second round, too. Just so that you don't get four home games in a row," VanDerveer said.VanDerveer also accidentally referred to Vandersloot as "Stephanie" on Sunday, even if the country has come to know all about the Bulldogs' spunky point guard during her mesmerizing tournament run.RELATED: Gonzaga season scheduleresults
Vandersloot is averaging 30.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 10.3 assists in the Bulldogs' three tournament wins, including 29 points in the victory over Louisville, despite going more than 9 minutes of the second half without scoring. Her scoring average through three games ranks as the third-highest in NCAA tournament history.She's the focal point - and the one Graves compares to Stiles' tournament 10 years ago - but the Bulldogs know they'll need more than just Vandersloot to hang with the Cardinal, who have won 26 straight since an overtime loss at Tennessee in December."We have really found our roles and we're really clicking really well together right now," Redmon said.There is also familiarity between the schools, with Monday being the third meeting in the last two seasons. Stanford is the only team to beat Gonzaga on its home floor in the last two seasons, handing the Bulldogs an 84-78 loss back in November.Jeanette Pohlen was the key that night for Stanford with 19 points, but has struggled since the start of the Pac-10 tournament. In her last five games, Pohlen - the Pac-10 player of the year - has scored in double figures just once and is shooting only 26 percent. She missed eight of nine shots in Stanford's 72-65 regional semifinal win over North Carolina.RELATED: Stanford season scheduleresults
Both teams admit there isn't a lot to take from the meeting back in November, except for a little base knowledge. At the time, Chiney Ogwumike was playing only the third game of her career and, along with her sister, had yet to show her forceful rebounding prowess on the interior.Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were in a stretch of learning how to play without two key starters from a year ago and hadn't seen the emergence of forward Kayla Standish or learned how others would play off of Vandersloot. The loss to the Cardinal was part of a 2-3 start by Gonzaga."At that time, we were struggling. Elite Eight was a long way away," Graves said.They're 29-1 since."We knew that we had the ability, we had the team, we had all the pieces, we had the experience," Vandersloot said. "We knew that we could, if everything went right and we were playing as well as we knew we could be, that we could make some noise in the tournament."