Spokane Arena, the site of tonight's Elite Eight matchup between No. 1 seed Stanford and No. 11 seed Gonzaga (6 p.m. PST, ESPN), is about a mile from the Bulldogs' home court, where Courtney Vandersloot and Co. began their Cinderella run with wins against Iowa and UCLA.
The sold out McCarthey Athletic Center was also where Gonzaga gave Stanford all it could handle in an 84-78 Cardinal win last November. It was as close a game as the Cardinal played all season and, while both teams have improved since then, tonight's rematch--with a berth in the Final Four on the line--figures to be every bit as nerve-wracking as the Cardinal's Sweet 16 victory over North Carolina.
In addition to having a majority of the fans in Spokane on their side, the Bulldogs will also have Vandersloot. The 5-foot-8 point guard is averaging 30.7 points during the tournament and scored 29 in Saturday's win against Louisville, which made the Bulldogs the lowest seed to reach a Regional Final in women's tournament history.
While Vandersloot makes Gonzago go, Stanford head coach Tara VanDerveer says the Bulldogs are a lot more than just one player. Kayla Standish, Katelan Redmon, and Janelle Bekkering all average double figures for the Zags.Two out of three ESPN experts picked Stanford to advance to its fourth consecutive Final Four, but Graham Hays thinks Gonzaga has a good chance to crash the party in Indianapolis.
Nneka Ogwumike knows Stanford will get Gonzaga's best shot.
"We don’t focus on what people think about whether we’re the underdog or the favorite to win. Honestly, I wouldn’t say that we’re even the favorite to win. We’re playing in Spokane, Gonzaga’s here, they’re a wonderful team."
Gonzaga was set up to make a run in the tournament with four games along the way to the Final Four in its own backyard, including the first two on its home court. The tall task the Bulldogs face tonight against the Spokane Regional's top seed is reminiscent of a No. 11 vs. No. 1 matchup in 2006. That year, the George Mason men shocked UConn at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, less than 30 minutes from the GMU campus. Let's hope things turn out differently for the top seed--and road team--tonight.