SPOKANE - Another day, another honor for Courtney Vandersloot.
On Monday, the former Kentwood High School standout was named one of 20 finalists for the John R. Wooden Award as college women’s basketball player of the year.
“Like she needs more publicity,” joked Kelly Graves, Vandersloot’s coach at Gonzaga.
The affable Graves was in a particularly good mood Monday. Not only did Vandersloot receive more accolades, but the 20th-ranked Bulldogs learned they will open the NCAA tournament at home Saturday against unranked Iowa (1 p.m., ESPN2).
“They’re not dissimilar from us in their style and athleticism and makeup,” Graves said.
The Hawkeyes (22-8) do like to get up and down the floor like Gonzaga. However, the Bulldogs lead NCAA Division I with 86.1 points per game, and Vandersloot leads the nation with 10.2 assists and a 3.3 assist-turnover ratio.
Vandersloot was declared “the nation’s best point guard” during the tournament selection show on ESPN on Monday. The three-time West Coast Conference player of the year averages 18.6 points (26th in the nation) and 3.0 steals (17th).
“She’s a one-in-a-million player,” Graves said.
Monday brought more good news to the Bulldogs when they learned they will stay in Spokane to play in the regional at the Spokane Arena if they win their first- and second-round games at Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center.
Graves said he was “a little surprised” Gonzaga landed in the Spokane Region. However, Graves and Vandersloot said they were not surprised the Bulldogs – despite their national ranking and an 18-game winning streak – were seeded 11th out of 16 teams in the region. Iowa is No. 6.
“We were kind of expecting it, about an 11th seed,” Vandersloot said. “Coach prepares us pretty well for that.”
The WCC is lightly regarded in women’s basketball. The Hawkeyes, who came in 26th in voting in the latest Associated Press Top 25, tied for third in the Big Ten Conference, which has three nationally ranked teams.
Gonzaga and Iowa both have four players scoring in double figures. Iowa’s Kachine Alexander, a 2009-10 honorable mention All-American along with Vandersloot, averages 14.3 points, 9.5 rebounds (tops in the nation among guards), 3.3 assists and a team-high 6.5 free-throw attempts per game. The 5-foot-9 senior loves to slash to the basket.
Iowa has a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) of 18, compared to 42 for Gonzaga. The Hawkeyes lost to 18th-ranked Ohio State in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament.
Saturday’s second game at McCarthey matches No. 3 seed UCLA (27-4) and No. 14 Montana (18-14). The winners meet Monday at the 6,000-seat arena, where few tickets remain available.
Seventh-ranked UCLA lost to second-ranked Stanford, 64-55, in the Pacific-10 Conference tournament finals. Gonzaga’s only loss in 14 home games came against Stanford, 84-78, on Nov. 21. The Cardinal is seeded No. 1 in the Spokane Region.
SCHOOL LOCATION: Iowa City, Iowa.
CONFERENCE: Big Ten Conference.
COACH: Lisa Bluder (11th year at Iowa). Bluder, a 27-year coaching veteran, owns a 211-131 record (.617) at Iowa. This is Bluder’s eighth Iowa team in the NCAA tournament, including the past four.
HOW THE HAWKEYES GOT HERE: The Hawkeyes tied 18th-ranked Ohio State for third in the Big Ten, then lost to the Buckeyes, 71-61, in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
OUTLOOK: Both teams like an up-tempo style of play. ... Gonzaga has won 18 consecutive games, and the Bulldogs’ own a 12-game home winning streak. ... The Bulldogs lead the nation with 86.1 points per game. Iowa, playing a far more challenging schedule, averages 70.5. ... Both teams have four players scoring in double figures. Jaime Printy, a 5-foot-11 sophomore guard, leads the Hawkeyes with 16.5 ppg. ... Printy committed to Iowa after her freshman year of high school at the age of 15, the youngest player in Iowa women’s basketball history to make an oral commitment. ... Iowa has shot 206 more 3-pointers than Gonzaga. ... The Bulldogs and Hawkeyes have never met in women’s basketball.
Howie Stalwick, contributing writer