Zags looking to recapture last season's magic
Gonzaga didn't walk out of Maples Pavilion on Sunday evening feeling like all is lost. Only a game.
It's mid-November and a 76-61 loss to No. 5 Stanford, at a place where the Cardinal haven't lost in the past 64 tries, is hardly a stamp of shame.
Historically, the Zags have done just fine coming off early-season losses to the Cardinal. Last season, Stanford pulled out a hard-fought victory in Spokane and Gonzaga went on to a stellar season that ended with a rematch with the West Coast standard-bearers in the regional semifinals.
"This is going to be valuable in the long run," Zags coach Kelly Graves said after Sunday's game.
Graves turned down a job offer from Washington and accepted a healthy contract extension to stay in Spokane after the team's Elite Eight run last season. This is no stepping stone for him, so he's not much interesting in scheduling light to pile up invaluable victories.
"I like to see what we are made of, where we are at," Graves said.
Yes, the Courtney Vandersloot era has ended. The Stockton-esque point guard, who will likely define this program for at least the next couple of years, has moved on to her pro career.
But the team that Gonzaga put on the floor Sunday is experienced, competitive and hard-nosed and it played like it for much of the game, until Stanford pulled away.
Guard Haiden Palmer transferred to Graves' team as part of the exodus from Oregon State at the end of 2010. She has found her place on the floor and in the offense. She finished with a team-high 13 points. Taelor Karr came from Kansas State. She was also in double digits with 10 points to go with five rebounds.
"This is a team and we still have a lot of great players," Palmer said. "We are probably more of a team now. All five starters can score and that puts us in a good spot."
It was not a great night for the Zags' established standouts -- Kayla Standish and Katelan Redmon. They scored 11 points between them, shooting 5-of-20 from the floor.
"When Kayla and Katelan combined for 11 points, you are not going to beat a great team on the road," Graves said. "Sorry."
Graves has played Stanford every season over the past few years. Last season, his team failed to take advantage of the experience in the NCAA tournament. But who knows? There could be another.
"A couple of years ago, we played Texas A&M early and they beat us and we saw them again in the second round and we were able to use that experience to our advantage," Graves said.
espnW's five to ponder this week ...
Top of the marquee
1. Nneka Ogwumike, Stanford. The Cardinal senior forward sat out Friday night's season-opening win against Texas with a still-undisclosed "upper- body injury," and her team managed to win without her. But they wouldn't have beaten Gonzaga without her on Sunday. She finished with 33 points and 18 rebounds and simply was the difference in a tough game.
2. Miami. The hot Hurricanes won their 25th straight home game against Texas Pan-American on Friday night. If you are going to be an elite team, defending the home court is a big first step.
3. Baylor coach Kim Mulkey got her 300th coaching victory, thanks to a 91-31 roll over Chattanooga. The Bears held Chattanooga to 18 percent shooting for the game, the 176th straight game that Baylor has held an opponent below 50 percent from the floor.
4. Caroline Doty, Connecticut. Doty, the Huskies guard, is back on the floor after missing last season with the third major knee injury of her career. She scored nine points and played 22 minutes.
5. Notre Dame forced 36 turnovers in an opening-weekend victory over Indiana State. The turnover tornado came from a defensive technique picked up by point guard Skylar Diggins in the offseason.
Names you should know (but maybe you don't)
1. Candice Warthen, Arizona. The Wildcats sophomore guard opened the season with a flourish, scoring a combined 49 points in two road wins. She was 16-of-30 from the floor and 11-of-13 from the line.
2. Alyssa Thomas, Maryland. The sophomore forward helped the Terps to a win over Georgetown, avenging their 2011 NCAA tournament loss to the Hoyas. Thomas finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds.
3. Jasmine Crew, Seton Hall. The Pirates' senior guard finished with 21 points, five rebounds, five assists and no turnovers in a 53-50 win over Army.
4. Alyssa Baron, Penn. Last year's Ivy League Rookie of the Year is picking up where she left off, scoring 27 points in the Quakers' win over St. Francis.
5. Kelli Thompson, UNLV. The Rebels' junior guard finished as the MVP of the Iowa Hawkeye Challenge, averaging 21.0 points in two games.
Teams of the week
1. Villanova. Coach Harry Perretta won his 600th career win Friday night, beating Iona 76-47. Perretta has been on the sidelines for 34 years. His first win at Villanova came in 1978.
2. Toledo. The 2011 WNIT champs avenged last season's 32-point loss to Dayton with a 61-51 victory in front of 3,467 on their home floor.
3. UNLV. Kathy Olivier is making headway at her alma mater. The Rebels won the Iowa Hawkeye Challenge this weekend, including a 69-59 win over host Iowa.
4. USC. The Women of Troy opened with a 65-57 home win over Fresno State. But what's more exciting is what's to come. Road trips to Nebraska, Georgia and then the Bahamas to face Notre Dame and possibly Duke.
5. Virginia. After 34 years under coach Debby Ryan, the Cavaliers are playing now for coach Joanne Boyle and opened with a 80-48 win over Appalachian State. Boyle is 10-0 in season openers as a head coach.