Gonzaga edges Saint Mary’s
LAS VEGAS -- Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves has seen Courtney Vandersloot make some pretty spectacular plays.
Yet none topped the baseline move the star guard made Monday against St. Mary’s intimidator Louella Tomlinson, the NCAA’s career leader in blocked shots.
Vandersloot’s up-and-under reverse layup high off the glass helped fuel a 72-46 Gonzaga victory against the Gaels and gave the Bulldogs their third consecutive West Coast Conference tourney title.
“Oh my gosh,” Graves said of the acrobatic move. “Honestly, I’ve never seen that from anybody I’ve coached.”
With 18 points, a career-high 16 assists, two steals and a block in the finals, Vandersloot showed she was worthy of the Naismith Award as the women’s top collegiate player 5-foot-8 and under.
“It was nice that everybody got to see what we see all the time,” Graves said of Monday’s nationally televised game.
The Bulldogs (28-4) now turn their attention to the NCAA tournament, where they advanced to the Sweet 16 a year ago.
“I think we’re going to surprise some people,” said Vandersloot, who was selected Most Valuable Player of the WCC tourney. “We made a good run last year, but we’re not settling for that.”
Players believe Monday’s effort, will help round out their game.
“I’m proud of how we reacted,” Vandersloot said of countering Saint Mary’s strategy to slow the pace. “We proved to ourselves that we can play a half-court game.”
In the first half, the Gaels applied full-court pressure defensively against the nation’s highest-scoring team, and often walked the ball up the court when they had it before driving toward the basket and drawing a foul.
The strategy worked early as Saint Mary’s drew 10 fouls and went to the line 13 times in the first half, making nine, compared to 1 of 1 for Gonzaga, which was held scoreless for 4 1/2 minutes.
Gonzaga beat Saint Mary’s 107-66 and 106-66 during the regular season and figured the Gaels would try to do something different Monday.
“This surprised me a little bit,” Graves said. “They executed it well. In the end we turned up the defense and once we got our fast break cranking, good things happen.”
Not surprisingly, it was Vandersloot’s 3-pointer that sparked a 20-5 Gonzaga run, turning a 15-8 deficit into a 28-20 halftime lead.
Gonzaga outscored Saint Mary’s 44-26 in the second half, holding the Gaels to 27.5 percent shooting (14 of 51), forcing 18 turnovers and outscoring them 14-0 on the break.
“(Eventually) they made us play fast,” said Saint Mary’s coach Paul Thomas, whose team is headed to the women’s National Invitational Tournament.
“They half-court pressed us and they full-court pressed us. … As the clock wound down, we were taking jump shots and they were off to the races. They convert your mistakes into baskets really well.”
Freshman Danielle Mauldin led Saint Mary’s (19-12) with 19 points and 10 rebounds, while Tomlinson added eight rebounds, seven points and five blocks.
Katelan Redmon had 17 points, six rebounds and three steals for Gonzaga, while Kayla Standish added 10 boards and eight points.
Gonzaga 50.8 percent overall, and 71.4 percent from 3-point range (5 of 7), and held a 42-22 advantage in the paint.
Despite losing by 26, Thomas called it “progress,” first holding off San Diego on Sunday to reach the finals, then starting strong against Gonzaga.
“Hopefully this is a steppingstone, and we can expect to be (in the finals) every year,” Thomas said.
He wasn’t sad that he had faced Vandersloot for the final time.
“If I was starting a team right now, I’d start with her,” Thomas said. “She makes everyone around her better.”
Joining Vandersloot on the all-tourney team were teammate Standish, San Diego’s Sam Child, Tomlinson and Portland’s ReZina TecleMariam.