The Gonzaga Bulldogs don’t believe they are missing the NCAA experience by playing at home.
“It’s a little bit different just because we’re not in a hotel. Just being around home we’re comfortable in here,” senior Courtney Vandersloot said. “Once you walk in here and see our gym has changed a little bit, it creates the NCAA environment.”
“I don’t really miss anything about being on the road,” senior Janelle Bekkering said. “… It’ll be a sold-out crowd and it’s just going to be fun to play in. It will be a good atmosphere.
“They went to class this morning,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “They are doing the same things they would typically do on a Friday. This is about the time we practice every day so nothing has been too unusual. That can be good and bad.
“We will have a lot of people who are Gonzaga fans and with that maybe comes a little more pressure than it would be for an 11 seed being on the road.”
Gonzaga has remained “loosey-goosey,” Graves said, as it prepares for this afternoon’s game against sixth-seeded Iowa.
“That is just how we play; we’ve always played that way,” Graves said. “I think we’re best when we play loose. Obviously, we like to play fast and I don’t think you can play fast and play tight.”
Past is past
Gonzaga is 0-5 against Big Ten teams, including a meeting with Iowa in the 2002 Great Alaska Shootout, when both Graves and Hawkeyes coach Lisa Bluder were in their second season.
“I’ve never really heard that until right now,” Vandersloot said when asked if that was a concern. “That doesn’t affect us at this point.”
On the road
Iowa wasn’t thrilled to be seeded higher than Gonzaga and then have to play the Bulldogs on their home floor in front of a sell-out crowd of 6,000.
“We understand how tough it’s going to be, playing on anybody’s home court is more difficult than playing on a neutral court,” Bluder said.
“I think you can ask 320 Division I coaches and they’ll give you the same answer, so no, we’d rather be playing on a neutral court. But at the same time, Gonzaga has been a great host.”
“It’s kind of like last year when we came to the West Coast (Stanford),” said Kachine Alexander, the Hawkeyes’ all-conference guard. “It’s always fun because we don’t get to come on this side of the country very often. … It’s really fun to come out this way when you get to see new cities.”
There is an incentive for playing well as the villain in front of 6,000 fans.
“The negatives of their crowd makes that our positive,” sophomore center Carter Johnson said. “We’re really excited to quiet the crowd out there.”
Griz feel at home
At least one other team is hoping to have a homecourt feel today.
Montana, located 3½ hours east of Spokane, didn’t get as many tickets as it had hoped, Grizzlies coach Robin Selvig said.
“We could have had a couple thousand (come over),” Selvig said. “There just weren’t tickets for it. There will be a lot of people (in Missoula) watching on TV.”
Selvig said about 350 fans will be on hand. He figures Gonzaga fans will likely cheer on the Grizzlies since they’re underdogs.
The UCLA Bruins have ambitions beyond this weekend. Such as a deep run in the tournament.
It’s the second straight season the Bruins are in the tourney.
“I look at the road we have traveled and we’ve worked hard to get to this point,” UCLA coach Nikki Caldwell said. “I can’t tell you how proud I am of this team and what they have been able to accomplish in a short period of time.
“This year, with more maturity on our side with Darxia (Morris) and Doreena (Campbell) playing the way they are and leading our team at the guard play, I think this team is looking at it as we knew our name was going to be called (on Selection Sunday). The focus is how far are we going to go.”
“We are a long ways from home. We don’t have many fans here. I think the selection committee got Idaho and Iowa mixed up.”
– Lisa Bluder, Iowa coach