SPOKANE - Cinderella's carriage crashed and burned Monday night at the Spokane Arena.
Oh, but what a ride it was for the Gonzaga Bulldogs and women’s basketball fans in the Pacific Northwest.
The 11th-seeded Bulldogs, the lowest seed to reach the Elite Eight round of the NCAA women’s tournament, fell short of their first Final Four trip when Stanford rolled to an 83-60 victory in the Spokane Region title game.
The top-seeded and second-ranked Cardinal (33-2) eased their way to their 27th consecutive win despite the contest being played a long 3-pointer from the Gonzaga campus before a sellout crowd of 11,646.
The frenzied “home” crowd did all it could to spur Courtney Vandersloot and her Gonzaga teammates to victory.
Pacific-10 Conference power Stanford, however, dominated at both ends of the floor with a bigger, stronger, more experienced lineup.
“They’re just better than us,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves summed up.
Graves spoke at length about his appreciation for Vandersloot as a player and person. Graves’ voice cracked with emotion.
“I love that young woman with all my heart,” said Graves, who stressed his strong feelings for Gonzaga but said he expects to meet with the Washington Huskies about their coaching vacancy.
Vandersloot, the most talented and popular female athlete in Gonzaga history, received a standing ovation when she came out of the game with barely a minute remaining.
“It was a different feeling than I thought it would be,” a red-eyed Vandersloot said. “I was obviously very disappointed that we lost, but at the same time, I couldn’t help but just enjoy that 10 seconds it was to walk off the court and hear the fans cheering.
“I know, deep in my heart, they just love us and are just as proud of us right now as if we had won the game.”
Vandersloot, a senior point guard out of Kentwood High School, led all players with 25 points and nine assists. She had just one turnover in 39 minutes.
“She has made Gonzaga (women’s) basketball cool,” Graves said. “Those fans love this team, and Courtney’s really the one that has spearheaded all that.
“I’m just so proud of her. She is a phenomenal basketball player. And equally as good a human being.”
Vandersloot scored 21 points in the first half, including 18 consecutive Gonzaga points.
Gonzaga (31-5) trailed 47-38 at halftime.
Stanford switched to a zone defense in the second half and cut down Vandersloot’s driving lanes. The Bulldogs responded by missing 12 out of 13 shots in the first seven minutes while being outscored 14-2, and their 21-game winning streak was doomed.
Stanford shot 64.5 percent from the field in the first half and 57.4 for the game. That was a season high by a Gonzaga opponent, and the Cardinal held the Bulldogs to a season-low 33.8 percent. Gonzaga came into the game leading NCAA Division I with 86 points per game and 49.8 percent shooting.
Only five Bulldogs scored. Vandersloot teamed with Kayla Standish (17 points) and Katelan Redmon (13) to score all but five of Gonzaga’s points.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike, a junior, and her freshman sister, Chiney, dominated inside and finished with respective totals of 23 points and 11 rebounds and 18 points and 15 rebounds. Stanford out-rebounded Gonzaga, 49-25.
Point guard Jeanette Pohlen snapped out of a brief shooting slump by nailing five 3-pointers and scoring 17 points. The Pac-10 player of the year had high praise for Vandersloot, who leads all tournament players with her four-game averages of 29.3 points and 10 assists.
“I don’t know if I’m at liberty to say if she’s the best player that we played against, but she’s definitely up there,” Pohlen said.
Nnemkadi Ogwumike was voted Most Outstanding Player of the regional. She was joined on the all-tournament team by her sister, Pohlen, Stanford’s Kayla Pedersen, North Carolina’s Italee Lucas and Vandersloot.
Stanford makes its fourth consecutive appearance in the Final Four on Sunday in Indianapolis. The Cardinal faces the winner of tonight’s game between third-ranked Baylor (34-2) and seventh-ranked Texas A&M (30-5).
It was Stanford’s second win this season against Gonzaga. In an early season meeting, the Cardinal defeated the Bulldogs, 84-78, on Nov. 21 at the McCarthey Athletic Center, Gonzaga’s home court in Spokane.