Gonzaga senior guard Matt Bouldin has been to Buffalo, N.Y. He was about 12 on a family vacation. He went to Cooperstown, the Baseball Hall of Fame, Niagara Falls. Great trip.
Head coach Mark Few’s been there, too, as an assistant under Dan Fitzgerald during Gonzaga’s 1993-94 season. Tough weekend.
“Not a stellar 72 hours for the Zags,” Few said, chuckling. “It’s a little rough when you lose that first game to Canisius and back it up by losing to Niagara. People in that city are going to be absolutely shocked – Do you realize that team actually went on to win the conference that year? I’m not sure they saw our best basketball at that tournament.”
Few wouldn’t mind if Gonzaga played a little better basketball and shocked some people along the way when his Bulldogs travel to Buffalo later this week to take on Florida State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga, which earned its 12th consecutive trip to the NCAAs, is the eighth seed in the West Region, while the Seminoles, who earned an at-large bid out of the Atlantic Coast Conference, are No. 9. Game time is 4:10 PDT Friday at HBSC Arena.
If the Bulldogs (26-6) knock off the Florida State (22-9), they’ll likely face No. 1-seeded Syracuse, which opens against No. 16 Vermont. Syracuse is roughly 150 miles east of Buffalo.
Bulldogs players and coaches gathered in the Herak Room inside the McCarthey Athletic Center on Sunday afternoon to learn their seeding, site and first-round opponent.
“I think those two (seeding and site) together, it was kind of like dang, dang,” Bouldin said, “but I really don’t know where our résumé stood with all the other tournaments that were going on last week. I knew the loss to Saint Mary’s (in the WCC tournament title game) would hurt us, but it’s going to be fun, no matter who or where we’re playing. It’s the best time of the year.”
Gonzaga knew its chances of playing at the Spokane Arena in the opening rounds were all but gone after losing in the WCC title game.
“As long as you see your name on the board I’m happy with that,” guard Steven Gray said. “This is what we’ve been doing pretty much all year – hop on a plane, travel wherever, play in hostile environments and try to go take on the world.”
Florida State finished tied for third with Virginia Tech in the ACC. The Seminoles had a bye into the ACC tournament quarterfinals, where they lost to 11th-seeded North Carolina State 58-52. That score was indicative of many FSU games. The Seminoles led Division I in field-goal percentage defense (37.2), just in front of No. 2 Kansas (37.7), the tournament’s overall top seed.
The Seminoles are balanced offensively with six players averaging between 6.9-11.6 points. Sophomore center Solomon Alabi, 7-foot-1 and 251 pounds, is the team’s top scorer with 6-9 forward Chris Singleton next at 10.3.
“They can really, really defend,” Few said. “They take a lot of pride in defending and they’ve been keeping the games in the 50s and grinding it.”
Few had an inkling Gonzaga might end up in Buffalo.
“I told our guys we were going to Buffalo on Monday or Tuesday. They think I’m clairvoyant,” he said. “With all the information and the bracketology that’s out there, I just wanted them to understand how special the NCAA tournament is and to truly enjoy the moment and feel very proud of what you’ve accomplished this year.”
Sounds like the message got through.
“We were going to take whatever they handed us,” Gray said. “This team has the right mind set to go in and make the most of the opportunity.”