As amazing as it was to watch Gonzaga Bulldogs point guard Courtney Vandersloot become the first player in college basketball history to score 2000 points and 1000 assists, that she managed to overshadow teammate Kayla Standish in doing so was almost even more remarkable.
"She's showing everybody why she should be an All-American and is probably the best point guard in the nation," said Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves.
In front of a near-sellout crowd of 5,804 in McCarthey Athletic Cen, Vandersloot shined the brightest in leading Gonzaga to a 89-75 victory over the UCLA Bruins to send Gonzaga to their second consecutive Sweet 16.
After struggling to hit shots early in the game, Vandersloot scored her 2000th career point with 12:21 left in the game and finished with a game- and career-high 17 assists, 29 points, and seven rebounds. With her 17 assists, Vandersloot is also now five assists away from breaking the NCAA single-season record, which stands out even on a night when everyone was watching her scoring.
"I think when you watch Vandersloot the thing that makes her great is that she makes her teammates look good," said UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell. "She's a smart player."
Among the players who benefited from Vandersloot's smart play tonight was Standish, who finished with a game-high 30 points for her second consecutive game in addition to 10 rebounds and was absolutely dominant in post, on the baseline, and on the wing.
"She did a great job of finding gaps in zones," commented Vandersloot. "She can do so much - she's just versatile."
Once Vandersloot started hitting in the second half, it was the combined inside-outside force of the team's two stars that ultimately overwhelmed UCLA with Gonzaga's home crowd only getting louder after Vandersloot secured her milestone. The Bruins managed to stay in the game behind an impressive 20 points from Darxia Morris and 18 to go with 10 rebounds from Jasmine Dixon but it wasn't enough to overcome an outstanding women's basketball atmosphere in Spokane that multiple people observed was as loud as it had ever been.
"I really do think it helps," said Graves when asked about the atmosphere. "I think they fed off that tonight and did Saturday (against Iowa).
For UCLA, this was a tough situation - after dominating the boards with their athleticism in the first half, Gonzaga got more aggressive in the second half to win the second half rebounding battle 19-12 and beat UCLA on the offensive boards by a narrow, yet vastly improved, margin of 6 to 1. But by far the biggest difference in the second half was Gonzaga's shooting - in addition to getting to the free throw line 22 times, Gonzaga shot 64 percent from the field overall and a 2-point percentage of 68.42 percent behind Standish's 7-for-8 shooting in the second half.
"That atmosphere from the crowd, it helps," said Vandersloot. "The last 20 minutes you don't even feel tired because you're so amped from the crowd."
With a deafening home crowd and hot shooting from Gonzaga, UCLA was simply unable to overcome an increasingly aggressive and confident Bulldogs team and the weight of March Madness emotion was palpable during their portion of the press conference. But this was undeniably Vandersloot's night and down the stretch it simply became impossible to imagine an alternate outcome.
"We knew what she could do," said Dixon when asked about defending Vandersloot. "Our problem was stopping it."