Gonzaga drew a seventh seed in the NCAA tournament and will face 10th-seeded West Virginia on Thursday in Morganto…, err, Pittsburgh.
“We’re wearing white jerseys but the home-court advantage will be with them,” junior forward Elias Harris said. “It’ll be like a road game, but the fans aren’t on the court. It’s us against them and it really shouldn’t bother us.”
The Bulldogs (25-6) and Mountaineers (19-13) square off at 4:20 PDT at CONSOL Energy Center, roughly 2,250 miles from GU’s campus and 75 miles from West Virginia’s campus. The winner will meet the winner of No. 2-seeded Ohio State (185 miles from Pittsburgh) and No. 15 Loyola-Maryland (245 miles) on Saturday. Syracuse is the top seed in the East Region.
The Bulldogs have been down this distant path before. In 2008, No. 7 Gonzaga was sent across the country to face No. 10 Davidson in Raleigh, less than a three-hour drive from Davidson, N.C. The Wildcats, behind Stephen Curry’s 40 points, defeated Gonzaga 82-76.
“Hey, it, you know, it’s, it’s all right,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We were going to play somebody really good, we knew that. The location is tough, but that kind of comes with the territory.”
Senior center Robert Sacre is the only Zag who played against Davidson.
“First point in the tournament, that was me,” a smiling Sacre recalled. “If you come to Gonzaga you’re guaranteed to go play across the country in someone’s backyard. I feel the committee knows we’re good at that so we’re fine. We just need to play our style and not focus on what the crowd is doing.”
The site is reasonably close to the hometowns of freshman guard Kevin Pangos (Newmarket, Ontario) and sophomore forward Sam Dower (Brooklyn Park, Minn.). Dower said he’ll phone his family to see if they can make the trip.
“I talked to my parents before and they were kind of hoping Pittsburgh,” Pangos said. “They told me it’s about a six-hour drive.”
The Bulldogs encounter a Big East Conference team that will be playing in its fifth straight NCAA tournament under coach Bob Huggins and seventh in the last eight years. West Virginia finished eighth in the Big East standings at 9-9. The Mountaineers lost eight of their last 12, including a 71-67 overtime setback to Connecticut in the second round of the Big East tournament.
West Virginia has nonconference wins over Oral Roberts, Kansas State and Miami, and also defeated Georgetown, Cincinnati and South Florida.
“It’s a Huggins team so it’s going to be a team that’s physical,” Sacre said.
Senior forward Kevin Jones, 6-foot-8 and 260 pounds, averages 20.1 points and 11.1 rebounds. Jones joins Jerry West as the only players in school history with 1,700 points and 1,000 rebounds. Jones ranks in the top 10 nationally in field goals, double-doubles and rebounds.
Senior guard Darryl Bryant made 69 3-pointers and averages 17.2 points.
The Bulldogs will have their hands full with Jones and what figures to be a pro-Mountaineers crowd.
“That’s always hard to swallow (facing a higher seed in their backyard), but there’s so much criteria that goes into these things,” Few said. “Obviously they want to put Ohio State close to where they’re from and they probably went straight by the numbers after that. If you start worrying about 7 and 10 seeds it probably would never get done but it’s tough. That’s twice we’ve been in this situation.”