SPOKANE - In one corner, wearing the blue trunks, Courtney Vandersloot.
In the other corner, wearing the white trunks, Shoni Schimmel.
In a battle of heavyweight point guards, Vandersloot scored a knockout Saturday. It was, however, one heck of a fight.
Vandersloot set two more records in yet another splendid performance, and Schimmel bounced back from a nightmarish first half to fuel a furious Louisville rally that ultimately fell short in a 76-69 loss to Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament.
The 20th-ranked Bulldogs (31-4), who reached the Sweet 16 for the first time last season, now make their initial appearance in the Elite Eight. Gonzaga faces second-ranked Stanford, a 72-65 winner in Saturday’s late game over No. 14 North Carolina, in Monday’s regional title game in Spokane Arena (6 p.m., ESPN).
Monday’s winner advances to the Final Four in Indianapolis next Saturday.
Vandersloot, the former Kentwood High School standout, led everyone with 29 points, seven steals (a tournament record), seven assists and, alas, a very uncharacteristic seven turnovers. A near-capacity crowd of 10,717 gave Vandersloot a standing ovation when she left the game in the final minute.
Vandersloot now has 358 assists, surpassing the old NCAA Division I single-season record of 355 set by Penn State’s Suzie McConnell in 1986-87. Vandersloot leads the nation with 10.2 assists per game.
“She’s definitely a good point guard,” Schimmel said. “She’s a senior. She knows what she’s doing.”
Schimmel, a freshman out of Portland’s Franklin High School, scored just two points on 1-for-13 shooting in the first half. She finished with a team-high 18 points on 8-for-23 shooting, including 2-for-10 on 3-pointers.
Schimmel, who grew up about a four-hour drive south of Spokane on the Umatilla Indian Reservation in Oregon, was hounded on defense by Gonzaga senior Janelle Bekkering.
“In my opinion, she’s the best ball defender that there could be on the West Coast,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said.
The unranked Cardinals (22-13), seeded seventh in the 16-team Spokane Region, played the final 58 minutes without leading scorer and rebounder Monique Reid. The junior forward, who came into the game averaging 15.9 points and 6.2 rebounds, pulled a groin when stretching prior to the game. She played only five minutes.
“I’ve yet to see a dog stretch before chasing a car, so I don’t know why we’ve got to stretch so damn much,” Louisville coach Jeff Walz joked.
Walz cracked plenty of jokes afterward but he acknowledged the loss of Reid was “very, very difficult.”
Vandersloot scored 16 points in a dominating first-half performance. The 11th-seeded Bulldogs, the lowest seed ever to reach the Elite Eight, led 35-24 at the break.
Gonzaga’s lead grew to 20 early in the second half before Louisville cut its deficit to three points on three occasions in the closing minutes.
“We relaxed a little bit too much,” Gonzaga’s Katelan Redmon said.
The Bulldogs scored just three field goals in the final nine minutes, but Bekkering hit six straight free throws in the final 21/2 minutes.
Bekkering scored 15 points. Kelly Bowen added 12 and Redmon scored 10, while star forward Kayla Standish was held to eight points.
Walz labeled Vandersloot “a fantastic player,” but the colorful Louisville coach made it clear he was not nearly as impressed with the officials. The diminutive Vandersloot was one of several players knocked to the floor in the bruising contest.
“It’s the NCAA tournament,” Vandersloot said, “so we have to come into the game expecting that kind of physical play.”
The Cardinals outrebounded Gonzaga 40-33, including 17-10 on the offensive glass. Louisville outscored Gonzaga, the nation’s top scoring team, 44-26 in the paint.
Asia Taylor had 12 rebounds (six offensive) and 10 points for the Cardinals. Keshia Hines pitched in with six rebounds and 17 points, and guard Tia Gibbs had four rebounds to go with her 16 points, five assists and three steals.