Gonzaga knew it had a spot reserved in the NCAA tournament field, but there was still a little stress as the Bulldogs gathered to watch the brackets revealed on Selection Sunday.
GU’s seeding, opponent and site weren’t known until late in the CBS broadcast.
“It was actually kind of nerve-wracking. We were like, ‘All right, announce us, enough with the commercials,’ and on and on it went,” senior wing Micah Downs said. “But we were excited with what we got.”
The Zags got the Zips.
Gonzaga will meet 13th-seeded Akron, champions of the Mid-American Conference tournament, Thursday at the Rose Garden in Portland. The winner will meet the victor of the No. 5 Illinois-No. 12 Western Kentucky matchup.
Gonzaga (26-5) is seeded fourth, its highest since the 2006 team was seeded third. The Zips (23-12) became the first No. 5 seed to win the MAC tournament. Akron will be making its second trip to the NCAA tournament. The first came in 1986 when Bob Huggins was the head coach.
“Everything’s cool. It’s a great situation for us to be in and you can’t ask for a better place to play than Portland,” said senior guard Jeremy Pargo, who admitted “I was pulling my hair out waiting for our name to be called. You’d see a four seed come up and you’re thinking maybe this is us and it wasn’t. Then you’d see a six seed and think it might be us. But once we saw our name … it’s just an exciting time for us.”
Unlike a year ago, when Gonzaga was seeded seventh and sent to North Carolina to play No. 10 Davidson in its home state, the Bulldogs should have a sizable contingent of fans at the Rose Garden. Pargo said he had a couple of ticket requests shortly after the pairings were announced, one from a friend at the University of Washington, which is also playing in Portland. Head coach Mark Few expects ticket demands will be “heavy.”
“It’s great for the fans, the families of the players,” Few said. “Selfishly, that’s where my whole family is and it’s easy for (wife) Marcy’s family (in Boise).”
The Bulldogs have been taping games from across the country the past three weeks in preparation for their first-round assignment. Few and his staff have been in contact with friends in the profession who have played against the Zips.
“And now with the online stuff, you can pretty much download stuff really quickly,” Few said.
One of the benefits of the WCC tournament finishing up last Monday is that Gonzaga can watch the majority of the conference tournaments on TV.
“You have to watch every single game this week,” a smiling Pargo said. “I was turning back and forth between Akron-Buffalo and some of the other championship games. They’re a great team. They can shoot the ball and they force a lot of turnovers.”
One of the downsides of the WCC tournament finishing up last Monday is that Gonzaga will go 10 days between games. To maintain the sharpness they displayed in easy wins over Santa Clara and Saint Mary’s, the Bulldogs kept a rigid practice schedule. The Bulldogs scrimmaged against several former Zags, including graduate assistant Alex Hernandez, Casey Calvary and Matt Santangelo, on Saturday.
“Last year we ratcheted down after the WCC tournament and this year (the coaches thought) it would be better to go pretty hard,” sophomore forward Austin Daye said. “We wanted to make sure we practiced hard and we’re more crisp than rested.”
Few said he’s all ears if anybody has an iron-clad method for keeping a team on a roll, well, rolling. He added: “I’d rather be playing our best basketball going in than our worst. Guys are confident and they’re healthy. If we play like that we have a great chance to be successful.”
Said senior forward Josh Heytvelt: “Everybody is getting along, we’re sharing the ball, we’re rebounding, we’re ‘D-ing’ up better than we have all year.
“I don’t think we can be in a better spot.”Video from KHQ: Fans react