Stanford fans were vastly outnumbered at the Spokane regional of the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, but their team was not outscored. Instead, the No. 1-seeded Cardinal defeated No. 5 North Carolina 72-65 on March 26 and No. 11 Gonzaga 83-60 to win the regional trophy on March 28.
Because Spokane is Gonzaga’s hometown, the Spokane Arena was packed to the rafters with its fans. Initially on March 26, the stands held a smattering of Louisville fans along with what appeared to be a similar number of North Carolina followers. Approximately 120 Stanford fans were wedged into a corner diagonally across from the Cardinal bench, while perhaps an equal number, including family members, sat in several rows behind the bench.
Everyone else in the announced crowd of 11,339 seemed to be cheering for underdog Gonzaga. The roar was deafening as the hometown team defeated No.7 Louisville 76-69.
Everywhere you looked around town, people sported the Gonzaga logo. One exception was the Red Lion Hotel at the Park, which was the headquarters for Louisville. The team even brought along red Louisville T-shirts for the front desk staff to wear. That didn’t last long, though, as the team and its fans left the day after their defeat.
Cardinal Gathering Spots
Two other exceptions were the Davenport Hotel, the Cardinal headquarters, and the neighboring Post Street Ale House, which hosted fan get-togethers before the team sendoffs.
The hotel projected a Stanford logo on the wall of the car entryway and a Stanford banner in the ornate central atrium.
Several dozen fans gathered in a back room at the Ale House before the first game. The tables were adorned with small Stanford pennants and strings of shiny red and silver basketball beads for souvenirs. In the meantime, fans watched the men’s game between Arizona State and UConn, groaning when the Pac-10 team lost to the Huskies.
Videographer Bud Anderson captured this gathering as well as events throughout the team’s stay in Spokane. His videos can be seen on the Cardinal YouTube site. He also mentioned that he shot the popular “I Got Bounce” video that featured the team, cheerleaders and other students dancing to the song written by fifth-year senior guard Melanie Murphy and sung by Mel, junior forward Nneka Ogwumike and Bud.
The sendoff featured the band, cheerleaders, Dollies and Tree performing while the beaming players clapped and took pictures before boarding their waiting bus.
This ritual was repeated prior to the Gonzaga game. The main difference was the players, coaches and staff carried their luggage to the bus first because they were flying back to the San Jose airport after the game so that they could go to class the next day. The spring quarter had begun the day before.
Another Packed House
Even though most of the Louisville and North Carolina contingents had left, the arena was packed for the Stanford-Gonzaga game. The local paper reported that only about 100 tickets were available for sale the night before.
When the arena doors opened 75 minutes before tipoff, most of the Stanford players were gathered near the bench prior to warmups. We could hear them say “Wow!” when it was announced that No. 2 seed Notre Dame was beating No.1 seed Tennessee 29-24.
Fans who had been wedged into a corner for the first game had a better vantage point across from the bench. More fans sat behind the bench. Rosalyn Gold-Onwude,’10, sat at the media table across from the bench as she provided commentary for Stanford’s radio KZSU.
Freshman guard Toni Kokenis, who had an ankle injury but had played against North Carolina, was not on the floor for the initial warmups, but joined the team shortly thereafter. A loud cheer greeted her arrival. In the meantime, athletic director Bob Bowlsby chatted with head coach Tara VanDerveer, and fans kept track of the Tennessee-Notre Dame game, which the Irish won 73-59.
Except for a 1-point lead at less than 1 minute into the game, Gonzaga trailed all the way but kept the margin fairly close during the first half, which ended at 47-38. After that, the Cardinal began pulling ahead. When a timeout was called with 3:54 left, the score was 79-53, and people began heading for the doors.
Cheers for Vandersloot
With 1:14 left and the score at 79-58, Gonzaga’s phenomenal senior point guard Courtney Vandersloot left the game and received a loud, prolonged standing ovation from everyone in the building, including Stanford fans, who had to admire her talent. She was the game’s leading scorer with 25 points.
She also was named to the all-regional team along with North Carolina’s Italee Lucas and Stanford forwards Kayla Pedersen, senior; and Chiney Ogwumike, freshman. Nneka was named the tournament’s most outstanding player with a total of 42 points and 14 rebounds in the two games.
After the team had donned their championship T-shirts and hats and posed for pictures with their new trophy, they began cutting down the net. Tara took the final cut, then tossed the net to senior guard Jeanette Pohlen, who helped her team with 17 points, including five 3-pointers, to go with two rebounds and five assists against Gonzaga.
Ros was on the court celebrating with the team. She played an integral role when the team won the Spokane regional four years ago and went to the team’s first of four consecutive trips to the Final Four.
The next morning, several fans, including the parents of junior guard Lindy La Rocque, boarded the same Southwest flight to Las Vegas. Except for the La Rocques, who live there, the rest awaited other flights to their Bay Area destinations.
There isn’t much time to unpack, do laundry, repack and fly to Indianapolis for the Final Four. In the first game on April 3, Stanford will face No. 2 seed Texas A&M, which defeated No. 1 seed Baylor. That game will be followed by Notre Dame vs. No. 1 Conn, which advanced by defeating No. 2 Duke. The championship game is April 5.