SPOKANE - Kelly Bowen says all the awards and accolades and records accumulated by Courtney Vandersloot don't address her best attribute as a basketball player.
“It’s her leadership, and just her ability to impact everyone on the floor at the same time. Everyone in the stadium, I guess,” said Bowen, a Gonzaga junior forward.
“Not only by her play, but just by her mental toughness and just her (desire) to win. She truly does put the team on her back, and we just go for the ride.”
What a ride it has been the past four years for Vandersloot and the Bulldogs. The dazzling little point guard from Kentwood High School has established herself as one of the finest female players in Pacific Northwest history and a prospect for the WNBA.
“She just makes everyone better,” Saint Mary’s coach Paul Thomas said after Vandersloot systemically destroyed the Gaels in the West Coast Conference tournament title game March 7. “That’s why she’s the best point guard in the nation.”
Says Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves: “Courtney deserves everything she gets. Obviously, she’s a one-in-a-million player, (a) once-in-a-lifetime player.
“For a lot of the country, she is Gonzaga basketball.”
The News Tribune’s all-area co-player of the year in 2006-07 has been named WCC Player of the Year a record three consecutive years, and she has also been named Most Valuable Player at the WCC tournament a record three years in a row. She’s a lock to earn All-America honors again after being honorable mention the past two seasons.
“I believe I’m the best point guard in the nation,” Vandersloot said in a rare moment of public bravado, “but that doesn’t mean the next person won’t (think differently).
“It’s all about opinion. It doesn’t really go to my head. I’m more focused on where we are as a team.”
The 20th-ranked Bulldogs have a 28-4 record – one win shy of last year’s school-record 29 – and have won the WCC regular-season championship a record seven consecutive years. Gonzaga tied the WCC tournament record by winning a third title in a row this year, and the Bulldogs are playing in the NCAA tournament for a school-record third consecutive year.
Leading the way is the 5-foot-8 Vandersloot. She leads the WCC in scoring (18.6 points a game), and she leads the nation in assists (10.2) for the second consecutive year.
Vandersloot holds the school and WCC records for career assists and games played. She’s third in career points on both school and conference lists, first in GU history in steals and second on the WCC steals list. Her 1,078 career assists rank fourth in NCAA Division I history.
“She sees the game like no one else,” Graves said.
Vandersloot also leads the nation in assist-turnover ratio (3.3). She’s a finalist for national player of the year and most outstanding point guard, and she won the Frances Pomeroy Naismith Award as the nation’s best female college player 5-8 or shorter.
“She just plays with her heart,” Bowen said.
Vandersloot’s hustling, flashy play has helped make Gonzaga women’s basketball a big deal in the Inland Northwest.
Gonzaga’s 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center has sold out for today’s NCAA tournament opener against Iowa (1:10 p.m., ESPN2). The Bulldogs averaged a school-record 3,824 fans this season, more than any WCC men’s or women’s team except the Gonzaga men.
One year after reaching the Sweet 16 for the first time, the Bulldogs are playing at home in the NCAA tournament for the first time.
“It’s a pretty good advantage just being able to be in our comfort zone,” Vandersloot said. “You know, being able to not be on the road, not having to live out of your suitcase.
“We’re in our area, we’re sleeping in our own bed, and then you add in the home-court advantage and the fans and everything.”
Gonzaga has compiled a stunning 109-25 record (.813) during Vandersloot’s four seasons as a starter, including 53-2 (.964) in the WCC. The Zags are riding an 18-game winning streak, but Vandersloot wants more. Much more.
“She’s just a great competitor,” Graves said. “You run out of adjectives at some point.
“The bottom line is, she’s a winner.”