SPOKANE, Wash. – Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves figured the realization of what the Bulldogs have accomplished won't settle in until the most inopportune of times — like the middle of the night.
"At about 3 a.m. when I haven't slept yet, we'll start to think about it," Graves said.
But what might seem like a dream run for the Bulldogs is very much real. The little Jesuit school is one win away from the Final Four.
Courtney Vandersloot did a little of everything again, scoring 29 points, handing out seven assists and getting seven steals, and 11th-seeded Gonzaga advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in school history with a 76-69 win against Louisville on Saturday night.
Playing less than two miles from their campus, the Bulldogs (31-4) sent the blood pressure rising for the 10,000 or so hometown fans in attendance after nearly squandering all of a 20-point second half lead. Along the way, they became the lowest seed to ever reach a regional final and get a chance Monday night to become the first school from outside the six major conferences to reach the Final Four in a decade.
"It hasn't really hit us yet," Vandersloot said. "We're excited about the win and I think that we're still celebrating, but pretty soon we'll focus on our next game ahead of us and then we'll realize how close we are."
Shoni Schimmel led seventh-seeded Louisville (22-13) with 18 points, but didn't find her shot until midway through the second half, missing 12 of her first 13 attempts. Keshia Hines scored a season-high 17, but the Cardinals got just five minutes out of leading scorer Monique Reid, who suffered a right groin strain. Reid said she actually felt it pop in pregame warmups and tried to go early but knew within the first 90 second she wouldn't be able to do much. She returned briefly in the second half but finished with just two points.
"It was a heck of a run and we did all we could," Reid said. "Watching, it was painful. I mean, I'm the leading scorer on the team. They played hard. We tried. We definitely tried."
The last mid-major conference team to reach the Final Four was 2001 when Jackie Stiles led Southwest Missouri State — now Missouri State — to the national semifinals. And Stiles did it by winning a regional held in Spokane.
Now it's Vandersloot and the Bulldogs trying to match what took place 10 years ago in the same building. When the Bulldogs emerged from their locker room about an hour after the victory, they were greeted by a standing ovation from the Gonzaga fans that hung around to watch the nightcap between top-seeded Stanford and No. 5 seed North Carolina.
The Bulldogs will play the winner.
Janelle Bekkering came up big in the closing minutes for Gonzaga with eight of her 15 points, including a baseline drive with 4:01 left that broke a nearly five minute scoreless streak for the Bulldogs. Kelly Bowen added 12 and Katelan Redmon scored 10 for the Bulldogs, who have now won 21 straight games.
As great as Schimmel was in getting Louisville to the regional semifinals with 33 points in an upset of No. 2 seed Xavier, the freshman point guard endured the struggles of a freshman for the first 30 minutes against the Zags. She made 8 of 23 shots overall, and 2 of 10 on 3-point attempts.
Hines tried to make up for the absence of Reid by scoring six straight late in the second half as Louisville got within 65-62 with 2:56 left before the Bulldogs pulled away. Tia Gibbs added 16 for Louisville.
"We dug ourselves a hole in the beginning and had to fight back, but it's one thing that we don't do is quit," Gibbs said. "And like coach said, he won't quit, so we won't quit. Unfortunately we (messed) around for the first 30 minutes and then fought the last 10, but that's it."
Vandersloot added another mark to her stellar career, setting an NCAA record for assists in a single season when she found Bowen for a three-point play less than two minutes into the second half. It was part of a 16-7 Bulldogs' spurt that pushed their lead to 51-31.
Louisville and Schimmel then got started. The freshman hit a pair of deep 3-pointers along with a floater in the lane. Her 3 with 9:08 left pulled the Cardinals within 59-48, and moments later the Gonzaga lead was down to seven with 5:35 left after Schimmel scored a pair of fastbreak baskets.
Hines scored six straight on the inside, getting the Cardinals within three before Bekkering's baseline drive. The Bulldogs hit 11 of 12 free throws in the final 2:36, including a trio from Vandersloot, who had gone more than nine minutes without scoring.
The Bulldogs outscored Louisville 24-5 at the line.
"This is an opportunity not a lot of people have," Vandersloot said. "We're really grateful that we get to play in front of our home crowd."