- Associated Press - Wednesday, March 30, 2011

SPOKANE, WASH. (AP) - Mike Roth is used to other schools coming after one of his coaches.

This time the target is different _ women’s coach Kelly Graves.

The Bulldogs are coming off the finest season in the school’s history, capped by an appearance in the Elite Eight.

Gonzaga lost to Stanford in the Spokane Regional final 83-60 on Monday night, ending their season at 31-5.

“When we get a chance to reflect back, we’re going to see that we did a lot of great things,” Graves said after the Bulldogs’ loss Monday night.

“You see teams on the men’s side that come up for a little bit. You don’t see a lot of different faces on the women’s side. You look at the final eight every year, and there’s not a lot of change. … And we kind of broke through for one week.”

For a change in Spokane, it’s not the future of men’s coach Mark Few that everyone is talking about.

Never before has there been a major opening just a few hours away when Graves is one of the hottest commodities in the coaching ranks.

Across the state, Washington is without a coach after Tia Jackson’s resignation earlier this month. Instantly, speculation turned to Graves, who says he’s perfectly happy at Gonzaga.

“I was giving him a hard time when the UW spot opened up, and he just shakes his head like ‘no way, I couldn’t leave this,’” senior guard Courtney Vandersloot said. “He’s got something special here. I don’t know why he would.

“And if he does,” she joked, “I’m going to take his spot.”

Graves just completed his 11th season and collected a seventh straight West Coast Conference title. When he started at Gonzaga in 2000, he says only friends and family came to the games and saw the Bulldogs go 0-14 in WCC play his first year.

On Monday night, Spokane Arena was sold out with nearly 12,000 fans _ most of them in dark blue and red _ to see Gonzaga play for a spot in the Final Four.

Graves doesn’t sound interested in what might be out there, although if there were a time for Graves to leave it would be now with Vandersloot headed for the WNBA. The point guard averaged nearly 30 points and 10 assists in the Bulldogs’ four NCAA games.

Following Monday’s loss, Graves choked up when talking about her impact on the Bulldogs’ program.

Courtney Vandersloot brought these people here, and she deserves a ton of credit for that. She has made Gonzaga women’s basketball cool, and that’s something people notice and love,” Graves said. “Those fans love this team, and Courtney’s really the one that has spearheaded all of that. I’m just so proud of her. … We’re going to miss her, but her legacy will live on.”

Vandersloot and starting guard Janelle Bekkering will leave, but the Bulldogs will bring back three starters _ Kayla Standish, Katelan Redmon and Kelly Bowen _ next season.

Roth said his philosophy is to try and be as “proactive” and not “reactive” with his coaches as possible _ part of the reason Few has remained at Gonzaga.

“I’ve walked down this road a few times. We use to call it the ‘Mark Few Sweepstakes,’” Roth joked. “Now it’s going to be the ‘Kelly Graves Sweepstakes.’”

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