The last time I watched a women’s basketball game at the Spokane Arena, a gal named Jackie Stiles set the arena on fire. Stiles’ hot shooting brought the crowd to their feet in Spokane that weekend. It became a must-see event.
That was in 2001.
And, it would blaze the trail for women’s hoops events in Spokane. Events like the Spokane Regional semi-final and final this weekend. With names like Duke, Maryland, Tennessee and Gonzaga, it was sure to be a stellar weekend of basketball.
And, for the semi-finals, it was indeed.
DUKE vs MARYLAND
And the senior shall lead them.
Or maybe it’s a junior.
Or, a sophomore.
The Maryland Terrapins are moving on to the Elite 8 after their 65-55 over the Duke Blue Devils. In the first half, senior Laurin Mincy led the way for the Terrapins with 15 points. Her steadiness and confidence paced Maryland to a 31-23 lead at the half.
But, Mincy would be shut down by Duke after that. As the Blue Devils keyed on Mincy, Maryland sophomore Shatori Walker-Kimbrough took over. Walker-Kimbrough scored 18 of her 24 points in the second half. She was 10 for 15 shooting (2-2 from 3).
While Walker-Kimbrough was shooting lights out, junior Brene Moseley provided a spark off the bench. Moseley’s contribution won’t show up in the box score. Pushing the ball up the floor, driving and dishing as well as her tight defense helped restore confidence for the Terrapins as Duke was making their push. Coach Brenda Frese, “I think you were able to see our depth when we were able to call on Brene off the bench when Lexie was struggling in this game.”
Duke had no counter for Maryland’s depth. Senior Elizabeth Williams was a workhorse pouring in 18 points, 9 rebounds, 2 assists and 1 steal in a 39-minute effort. Every time the Blue Devils needed a basket, Williams was there. Said Coach Joanne McCallie spoke about her All-American senior, “She’s been a rock. She’s truly the embodiment of what a student-athlete is all about. Not enough is written about that. I guess it’s not sexy enough. Premed, great grades, a person who is doing all the right things.”
For Maryland, it was win #27…in a row. “It’s just taking one day and one game and one practice at a time. But, obviously, I’m extremely proud of this group. I thought they did a phenomenal job with the scout and just locking in to what we wanted to be able to do today,” said Coach Frese.
Will they make it to #28 on Monday night? They’ll have to do it against a resilient Tennessee Volunteer team.
GONZAGA vs TENNESSEE
The number 27 is also a special number for the Lady Vols of Tennessee. Their 73-69 overtime win over the Gonzaga Bulldogs earned them their 27th trip to the Elite Eight. As sweet a victory as could be for Coach Holly Warlick and her Lady Vols team. “To date, this is the biggest victory for me and absolutely in the tournament. It is a sign of kids that are resilient and a great staff,” said Coach Warlick.
The win came at the expense of another valiant effort by the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The Zags appeared to be on their way to ending their three-loss streak to Tennessee. With 6:34 left to go in the game, Gonzaga held a 17-point lead on the Spokane Region’s second seed. A stingy, high-pressure defense employed by Tennessee forced turnovers and shot-clock violations from a normally reliable Zag offense.
Senior Cierra Burdick, “We were down what, 17 at one point and we came back to win in overtime. I think that just goes to show that no matter how many punches you throw at us we’re going to continue to get up and we’re going to keep fighting. We never thought we were out of this game. That’s just Tennessee basketball. That’s our mindset.”
That mindset was never more evident than in the play of freshman Alexa Middleton. Much like Maryland’s Brene Moseley, Middleton’s contribution won’t show on the stat sheet. But, her defensive pressure on Gonzaga guard Georgia Stinton was a sign of the havoc to come for the Bulldogs. “Our goal today was to put pressure on the ball. We felt like we could affect them with ball pressure. Before Lex came in we didn’t. Andraya Carter did it a little bit but got in foul trouble. Lex came in and did exactly what we wanted her to do,” said Coach Warlick.
A virtual home game for the Bulldogs did not intimidate the Lady Vols one bit. Freshman Jaime Nared, “It was just a great environment to be around. I was proud of everyone and it was game that I’ll remember forever because of how hard everybody played. And, how we all came together when we were down by such a large amount.”
For the Gonzaga Bulldogs and first-year coach, Lisa Fortier, it was an achievement and a learning experience. “It’s a tough way to end the season. I realize that all but one coach has to come up here as the team that didn’t win, but it’s tough with this group, especially my first year. I love these players and the way that they fought for each other and fought for us as a coaching staff this entire year, but especially the last couple of weeks.”
And so, it will be the Big 10 versus the SEC on Monday night in Spokane. If these two regional semi-final games were any indication, it will be a physical battle between Maryland and Tennessee. When a trip to Tampa and the Final Four is on the line, to borrow a cliché, it’s time to leave it all on the court.