Just remember, Gonzaga is an 11 seed, which means the Bulldogs are probably going to be underdogs in every game they play in the NCAA women’s basketball tournament.
Even if every game is in Spokane.
For something that was expected to be devoid of suspense, the tournament announcement Monday afternoon turned out to be rollicking good fun at the Gonzaga gathering.
That’s because Gonzaga’s pod was put in the Spokane Regional.
And the Bulldogs, despite being in the tournament for the third straight year and knowing they would play their first game – or two – at McCarthey Athletic Center, reacted accordingly when the bracket was filled in on ESPN.
“I was really surprised,” star point guard Courtney Vandersloot said. “I didn’t think we were going to get in the Spokane Regional. It’s like a comfort zone for us. We’re not looking at the second game until after the first game but we’re excited to be home. It’s something to set our sites on.”
The first game is at 1:10 p.m. on Saturday, when the 11th-seeded Bulldogs (28-4) take on sixth-seeded Iowa (22-8) on ESPN2.
A half hour after that game, it’s No. 3 UCLA (27-4) against Montana (18-14). The winners play Monday at 6:30 for a berth in the Sweet 16 at the Arena.
The all-session tickets are sold out but single game tickets will go on sale Wednesday morning.
“It did surprise me,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “Not just because of us, whoever wins this pod, to come back, is a little unusual.”
Gonzaga senior walk-on Carter Schick said, “We gotta win two to get there. It’s going to be great playing in front of the home crowd; our fans are the greatest.
“My mom knows nothing about basketball. The last two years I’ve been on the team we’ve been in Seattle and now we’re in Spokane. My mom honestly thinks we don’t ever have to travel to the NCAA tournament. I told her I don’t know how it’s happening but it is. Normally teams have to go across the country. It’s incredible. We’re pumped.”
Without expecting to be in the Spokane Regional, the Zags were subdued before the announcement.
“I figured we’d be about an 11,” Graves said. “I hadn’t thought about Iowa but we figured it would be a school from a BCS league. There were just so many teams to think about, too many to worry about.”
“It’s one of those things you don’t have any control over it, you just have to do the best you can,” Iowa coach Lisa Bluder said in a school release. “I thought we did our bit this year in terms of winning and having no bad losses. I like that we got a good seed, but we got a tough six seed.”
The Hawkeyes finished in a four-way tie for third place in the Big Ten but lost to Ohio State, one of the four 10-6 teams, in their first game of the league tournament.
“Personally, I don’t know a whole lot about Iowa,” GU senior Clare Rapp said. “The coaches will know within two hours. Definitely by Saturday we’ll be ready to play.”
Graves said, “I saw them a couple of times early in the year and I didn’t take very good notes. They’re similar to us; it’s not a team with enormous size. They have good basketball players, that’s what I remember. They share the basketball, they’re solid, they know how to play.
“They’re obviously battle tested playing in a good conference. They’ve played in several NCAA tournaments in a row so they’re experienced.”
The Hawkeyes are in the tournament for the 20th time, eighth under Bluder. They reached the Final Four in 1993 and advanced to the second round last year.
“We’re the only six seed that has to play someone on their home court, so that’s unfortunate,” Bluder said. “We’re happy with our seed, but we know we have a very formidable opponent in how well they’re playing.”
Even Saturday’s second game could help Gonzaga.
“I’m kind of glad Montana is going to be here. They travel well,” Graves said of a team GU has faced every year since 1987.
“They’ll root for us I’m sure and we’re going to root for them. I talked to (coach) Robin (Selvig) today. We both figured it was going to turn out that way.”