For the first time in nearly five years, Gonzaga cracked the top-25 Associated Press poll, landing at No. 24. The Zags, who’ve won the past five West Coast Conference titles, have been defeating conference foes by an average of 33.6 points this season.
Gonzaga (18-4, 7-0 WCC) benefited from there being a bevy of upsets, including a dozen loses to unranked teams this past weekend. The juggling between schools not named Connecticut or Stanford, cleared room for an impressive Zags squad that one scribe said is “just one big post from advancing far in the NCAA tournament.”
Yet, the big-time post Gonzaga does have in senior Heather Bowman is solid. Bowman is undersized at 6-foot-2, yet became the WCC and school’s all-time scoring leader. The latter she reached in Saturday’s 93-53 win against San Francisco. Bowman needed five points to surpass Tammy Tibbles’ 22-year-old mark and finished with 11 for 2,018 all-time.
In a visit to Gonzaga’s practice on Friday, coach Kelly Graves and his players talked about how their games are basically big practice runs for the postseason. Interestingly, Sports Illustrated columnist Phil Taylor wrote a column this week about UConn being bad for women’s basketball because of their dominance.
While I don’t agree with the premise — dominance just makes everyone else work harder — I do find it interesting how teams like UConn stay motivated when their conference isn’t a challenge. The Huskies have been ranked No. 1 for a record 37 consecutive weeks.
Gonzaga is no UConn. Or even a No. 2 Stanford or No. 4 Nebraska, for that matter. But all four could roll through their conference play undefeated, waiting for the NCAA tourney for a real push.
So, how do you stay motivated?
“We know that we’re targeted in every game,” said Zags point guard Courtney Vandersloot, who’s been sporting a summer blond look since December. “That’s motivation for us. We know we have the ability to beat these teams by 20-points or plus, but we know on every given night, they are going to give us their best shot. Since our seniors have been here, they haven’t had that undefeated season. That’s something we’re striving for.”
The Zags were last ranked in March 2005 when the team spent two weeks in the polls. Since then, they’ve won their first tourney game against Xaiver in the opening round last year and have developed two star players in Vandersloot and Bowman. A third in senior Vivian Frieson has added aggressiveness and is a good ball-handler when Vandersloot is pressured.
“It can be hard for us to get up,” Frieson said. “But one thing that really helps us is we’re not playing for that game or for next week. We’re playing for March. We really want to work on things and get better and polished for when it comes down to that NCAA tournament.”
STAR STUDDED: Storm C Janell Burse was selected to represent the “Rest of the World” in the EuroLeague All-Star game on March 9 in Poland. Phoenix G Diana Taurasi, the WNBA’s reigning MVP, also was voted a starter. Storm PG Sue Bird was not on the original ballot due to her late arrival to overseas play.
MARKETING CHANGE?: I’m a little twisted in my opinion on this one. It’s expected that Minnesota will alter its marketing plan to hype G Lindsay Whalen. The fans there have coveted her since she left Minnesota a star. But Seimone Augustus is, in my opinion, the star of that team. So, is it racial if Augustus is dropped off the marketing plan? Or is that faulting Whalen for happening to be white and from Minnesota? Discuss.
DOTTED LINE: WNBA Players and teams can begin signing contracts Monday. Announcements are expected to trickle out this week and look for Storm PF Lauren Jackson to re-up with Seattle. The team also is reportedly talking to fellow Australian PG Erin Phillips, who is a reserved player for Connecticut. The Sun would have to release her and might since Connecticut is reportedly coveting Kara Lawson to complement trade acquisition Renee Montgomery.
Meanwhile Phoenix will have trouble keeping its championship roster. And the Mercury are supposedly in talks of playing an exhibition game in Korea. Don’t know how that’s possible when the league cut two teams, two roster spots, and one assistant coach slot in the past two years due to the “economy,” but that’s the word.
POW: UCLA F Markel Walker became the second freshman of the season named Pac-10 Player of the Week. Walker averaged 16.5 points and 12.0 rebounds in helping the Bruins sweep the Oregon schools. UCLA (14-6, 7-2 Pac-10) moved into a tie with USC (13-7, 7-2) for second in the conference.
TWEET OF THE WEEK: “Do they play a basketball game between rounds of the Frisbee Dog World Championship?” Posted on Jan. 30 at 3:55 p.m. via @grahamhays.