Even if the second day of Seattle University's State Farm Holiday Classic featured less competitive games than the first day overall, it was still a great opportunity to see two NCAA tournament-caliber teams up close.
Seattle Times reporter Jayda Evans already had full coverage of the games (Day 1 | Day 2) to go with the few tidbits posted on Swish Appeal (Day 1 | Day 2). But at least as interesting as the games themselves were some of the individual performances, particularly from Gonzaga and Notre Dame players.
And although the tournament was billed as a showdown between point guards Skylar Diggins (UND) and Courtney Vandersloot (GU), it was lesser known players that stole the show, especially for Notre Dame, which won the unofficial "championship" and got the program's 700th win becoming only the second catholic school program to reach that plateau.
So the following is a look at the players selected to the All-Tournament team, from which Diggins is notably absent after being overshadowed by outstanding play from her teammates on both days. While part of that is because she didn't necessarily play her best, the bigger reason is that Notre Dame is a balanced team that has a number of options to go to.
And none of those options was bigger for Notre Dame than 6'2" forward Deveraux Peters.
Tournament MVP: Peters' defense helps to limit Loyola Marymount's scoring efficiency
Notre Dame won both games out-shooting their opponents and while Peters was definitely a part of that in both games, her defense against Loyola Marymount was simply outstanding.
"She really is coming along," said Muffet McGraw. "When she doesn't get in foul trouble she has a chance to get comfortable - she's really had struggles with foul trouble. So for her to play a whole game without fouls, that is a record for her - she usually gets two quick ones in the first half. So now she can relax and she can get some steals and she feels like she can play her game instead of having to be cautious."
Peters was just about everywhere, finishing with 5 steals and 2 blocks against LMU, but also stepping out to defend the perimeter, deflecting passes, changing shots and helping Notre Dame to control the boards on both days with a strong defensive rebounding percentage of over 20% on both days in addition to an impressive game-high 25.25% offensive rebounding percentage on the first day against Gonzaga.
The majority of her baskets came at close range off of cuts or post-ups, but when a player seems to be in the right place at the right time consistently - whether for rebounds or scoring opportunities - it's usually more than dumb luck. And her outstanding court awareness on both ends is why she was the clear choice for tournament MVP both statistically and with the defensive effort that doesn't show up in the stats.
Natalie Novosel's career-high leads Notre Dame over Gonzaga
While Peters earned MVP honors by having somewhat subtle impacts in both games, Novosel undoubtedly had the most impressive offensive performance of the tournament in their 70-61 win over Gonzaga.
And it's not a stretch to say that Novosel carried Notre Dame against Gonzaga - she accounted for almost 46% of the team's overall statistical production by dropping a career- and tournament-high 27 points on the Bulldogs.
"She's our leading scorer and she had just a great game and really looked to score, which is what we want her to do," said Notre Dame coach Muffet McGraw. "Crucial free throws. Just an outstanding game."
What was notable, if subtle, was that she scored so many points without dominating the ball - she worked mostly within the flow of the offense, picked her spots well, and when she was more aggressive in going to rim she got to the free throw line at a very high rate of 81.81%.
Of course, Novosel is Notre Dame's leading scorer this season so her leading the way is not uncharacteristic, but the scoring instincts she showed against Gonzaga were impressive.
LMU's Renahy Young is impressive but not enough to overcome Notre Dame's size
Notre Dame dominated the paint in every way against Loyola Marymount, but LMU guard Renahy Young made a valiant effort to compete in a game in which they were just flat out over matched. And although she scored over 20 points in both of their games, her first one against Seattle U was arguably even more impressive.
"Renahy Young has been out most of the season...and this is her fourth game back," said LMU coach Julie Wilhoit after Young scored 22 points against Seattle U. "And this is the first game that Renahy has been able to score after returning from her broken foot."
It's not even worth talking about the percentage of the team's production that she contributed because honestly nobody else was effective at all. Part of that was the team's injury problems - they've been missing leading scorer Alex Cowling for most of their season - part of that was simply being outmatched, but part of it was also being plain out-hustled and that's not exactly what any coach wants to see.
Kayla Standish records a double-double in each game, versatility helps beat Seattle
Had Gonzaga not been able to find a way to beat Notre Dame in their first game on Wednesday, Standish almost certainly would have been named MVP. After spending most of last season in the shadows of Heather Bowman and Vivian Frieson, the 6'2" junior has stepped right in as a critical part of Gonzaga's offense this year.
She had a double-double in each game of the Holiday Classic, but she was particularly impressive statistically against Seattle U in Gonzaga's win on Day Two. In addition to game-highs with 23 points and 12 rebounds, Standish also got to the free throw line 5 times (for a rate of 35.71%) as well as being extremely efficient as a distributor with 4 assists and 1 turnover for a pure point rating of 4.76. Her ability to make passes from the high post or the low block - in addition to being able to knock down mid-range jumpers - makes her and Gonzaga a very difficult team to defend.
Vandersloot still the engine that makes Gonzaga go
I joked with someone that Vandersloot looks outstanding even when she makes a turnover - more often than not, the idea was perfect but doesn't work out because she's trying to thread a pass through a space that most point guards wouldn't even perceive.
Even though Notre Dame focused on taking away her passing opportunities in transition, Vandersloot uses a combination of ball fakes, head fakes, hesitation moves, and calculated dribbles to get the defense to shift before a player gets open.
"Courtney is just- she's just - oh my God - she's just hard to guard because she gets so low to the ground and the team plays so well around her," said McGraw after playing Gonzaga.
And it's those intangibles and subtleties that make Vandersloot one of the best point guards in the nation - there are few players anywhere that see the game as well as she does. Even when she doesn't appear to have a dominant game like some other higher scoring or flashier point guards, Vandersloot's command of the game is ever-present and makes her stand out on the court even if she's not that outstanding on paper.
"We look up to her for leadership and everything and when she's not clicking, we kind of all feel it," said Standish.
Although she was only 4-for-14 from the field against Notre Dame, she had 7 assists (27.64% assist ratio) and 3 turnovers (11.84% turnover ratio) for a very good pure point rating of 4.38. Really, Vandersloot is what the pure point rating stat is made for - when you consider the number of risks she takes a ball handler, it's not only impressive that she has such a strong assist to turnover ratio but also that when she's on the court she continues to take those risks as a passer in addition to keeping defenses off-balance with the threat to score.
"Oh man, I love her game," said Diggins. "I might have underestimated her quickness - she's quick. She's quick, she's great with the ball, she's great at finding her teammates, she's great at creating her own shot. And she's dangerous because you don't know if she's going to shoot it or if she's going to dish it. And I think she draws a lot of eyes and I think that's why she leads the nation in assists because she's great at finding her teammates after she picks up the ball."
In Gonzaga's win against Seattle U, she showed off how her superior instincts translate to the defensive end of the court - she finished with 7 steals and on two occasions she actually got her hand on the ball the moment it left the passers hand.
She's a great player even if she wasn't named MVP in this particular setting.