SPOKANE – Kelly Bowen doesn’t lead the Gonzaga women’s basketball team in points, rebounds, assists, steals or virtually any other statistic.
Bowen, you see, is more interested in leading Gonzaga to victories.
“She’s one of those players that you have to have if you’re going to have a good team,” coach Kelly Graves said Sunday as the Bulldogs prepared for tonight’s showdown with eighth-ranked Miami in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
“Someone who doesn’t care if they get the spotlight,” Graves continued. “They never have a bad day.
“She (Bowen) brings it every day in practice. She always has a smile on her face. I might be chewin’ on somebody, and she’ll put her arm around ’em (and say), ‘Hey, it’s OK. You know Coach still loves you.’”
A victory tonight (6:30, ESPN2) would vault 11th-seeded Gonzaga into the Sweet 16 for the third straight year. The Bulldogs expect their fourth straight sellout.
“We love to feed off the crowd’s energy,” Bowen said.
Playing in front of 5,000-plus fans on a regular basis is just one of the reasons Bowen has cherished her four years at Gonzaga.
“It’s been unbelievable,” Bowen said. “I didn’t really know what to expect, but this obviously is completely above and beyond anything I would have imagined.”
Bowen, who grew up near Melbourne, Australia, averages 8.4 points and 5.8 rebounds. After earning her public relations degree in May, Bowen plans to return home and, a year from now, marry her fiancé.
Bowen and Gonzaga’s other starting forward, Kayla Standish (16.0 ppg, 7.7 rpg), have never missed a game in college. They’ll play in their school-record 137th games tonight. Former Kentwood High School star Courtney Vandersloot played in 136.
Graves said Bowen “always defends the best player” on the opposing team, but Graves said a team approach must be employed to slow Miami’s Shenise Johnson.
Johnson, a 5-11 senior guard, is one of the few college players who leads her team in points (16.9 points), rebounds (7.8), assists (4.5) and steals (3.5).
“She is phenomenal,” Graves said.
Johnson plays a key role in the presses and traps that third-seeded Miami (26-5) relies on. Gonzaga (27-5) struggled against Rutgers’ full-court press Saturday, but played well otherwise in an 86-73 win over the Scarlet Knights. Miami beat Rutgers, 92-81 in overtime, on Dec. 5.
Going into Sunday’s games, Miami ranked sixth and Gonzaga eighth in the nation in scoring at 76.9 and 75.5, respectively. Miami was third in steals at 13.2.
“This is just a fantastic matchup,” fiery Hurricanes coach Katie Meier said.
Guard-oriented Miami has a 6-6, 237-pound center in Pepper Wilson (6.3 ppg, 5.6 rpg). Wilson played for Pittsburgh against Gonzaga in the 2009 NCAA tournament in Seattle, posting 10 points, seven rebounds and four blocked shots in just 14 minutes.
Miami will be playing its second game without All-Atlantic Coast Conference guard Riquna Williams (16.6 ppg). The senior has been suspended for undisclosed disciplinary reasons, but Meier doesn’t want sympathy.
“I grew up in a family where my mother was pregnant with me and had three kids and she was 27 years old and my father was killed in a plane crash. That’s adversity,” Meier said.
Wilson also knows something about adversity. Her parents have struggled with drugs, and she grew up in foster homes and a public housing project in Pittsburgh where violence is so common that it is enclosed by security gates.
Tonight’s winner will play next Sunday at the University of Rhode Island in Kingston, R.I.