Gonzaga's Vandersloot leads team to NCAAs
Sophomore point guard Courtney Vandersloot leads her Gonzaga team into the NCAA women's basketball tournament subregional in Seattle this week.
Seattle Times staff reporter
Gonzaga vs. Xavier, 7:30 p.m. @ Edmundson Pavilion, ESPN2
Courtney Vandersloot has had a tough time paying attention in class these days.
The Gonzaga sophomore is solid academically, but basketball has been her focus lately. And that made Monday tough.
The Zags learned of their second NCAA women's basketball tournament seeding around 4:30 p.m. And how did Vandersloot celebrate? She rushed from a media conference call to a communications course.
"It was difficult to focus. We're all excited to play," said Vandersloot, whose Bulldogs earned a No. 12 seed to play No. 5 Xavier at Edmundson Pavilion on Saturday.
Before class began, she was congratulated by her professor and classmates Micah Downs and Jeremy Pargo, whose team defeated Akron in the NCAA men's tournament on Thursday.
"One of the biggest things about my going to Gonzaga is that I knew they were going to be at least contenders to be in that tournament every single year that I was there," Vandersloot said. "I've looked forward to it for so long."
Vandersloot was devastated her team didn't advance to the NCAA tournament last year after the team's fourth West Coast Conference regular-season championship.
The lithe Vandersloot, who's 5 feet 8, led her team to the conference tournament championship game, where the Zags lost to San Diego, 70-66. The Toreros earned the NCAA tournament automatic bid.
"I wasn't prepared for the long season, and last year my body really broke down," said Vandersloot, the 2008 WCC Newcomer of the Year. "I couldn't handle the level of basketball and I really wasn't performing the best that I could toward the end of the season, and that hurt us."
The offseason was like a crash home-economics course for Vandersloot. Working with trainer Peter Clark, the Covington native learned the importance of cooking for herself. She began eating several small meals and guzzling protein shakes throughout the day to gain weight.
Vandersloot, who averaged 26 points and seven assists as a senior at Kentwood High School, also worked on her outside shooting.
At the WBCA Classic in November, Virginia coach Debbie Ryan let Vandersloot know she's headed in the right direction.
"She said, 'You know, Courtney, you remind me a lot of Dawn Staley — except you shoot better than Dawn,' " Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves recalled.
Vandersloot was just learning to walk when Staley, now the South Carolina coach, earned Player of the Year honors in 1991 and 1992 for Virginia.
This season things have come together for Vandersloot and Gonzaga. Surrounded by junior forwards Heather Bowman and Vivian Frieson, Vandersloot averaged 16.4 points and 7.3 assists in leading the Zags (26-6) to a fifth straight WCC regular-season title. Vandersloot was conference Player of the Year.
"Every level she went to, she's been able to succeed and I was wondering, 'Can she still do that in college?' " said Vandersloot's father, Bill. "Every year she surprises me."
Playing only four hours from their home court, this Zags team is more determined than two years ago, Graves said.
They face an Xavier team that hasn't won an NCAA game since 2001, but features sophomore center Ta'Shia Phillips, the Atlantic-10 Player of the Year. The Musketeers also expect to return post Amber Harris, who missed the regular season with a knee injury.
Playing at Edmundson Pavilion, where Vandersloot has won in high school and college, eases any jitters.
"The stands are a little purple for me," she said. "Other than that, the court and lighting is nice. They need some navy blue in there."
Jayda Evans: 206-464-2067 or email@example.com
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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