Sports

Zags have a date with Rutgers

Graves says No. 3 seed tough task for No. 11 GU

Technically speaking, there was a chance they wouldn’t hear their name called.

But was there ever really any doubt?

Though the Gonzaga women’s basketball team opted for privacy as it watched the NCAA tournament selection show at the McCarthey Athletic Center on Monday, its cheers could be heard from the next room as the announcement was made.

As a No. 11 seed in the Kingston (R.I.) Regional, the Bulldogs will face No. 6-seeded Rutgers on Saturday afternoon on their turf.

“We’re thrilled to play in front of our crowd; that’s going to be a huge boost for us,” senior Katelan Redmon said. “And it’s nice now that we know. We thought we would be in, but in the back of our minds we knew there was a slight chance we wouldn’t be.”

“You never know … several years ago we were left out with a 27-3 record and no bad losses and it was traumatic, to say the least,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves added.

Graves was speaking, of course, of his 2005 team that was snubbed by the selection committee. Since then, the Zags have made four NCAA tournament appearances in five years (this will be their fifth). They lost in the first round in 2007, the second round in 2009, advanced to the Sweet Sixteen in 2010 and last season made an unprecedented run to the Elite Eight before losing to perennial power Stanford.

Though the Bulldogs have never faced the Scarlet Knights in the school’s history, Graves is somewhat familiar with his opponent.

“Everyone is obviously tough at this point,” Graves said. “I haven’t seen them a ton, but I’ve followed the program over the years and she recruits elite players – they’re all high school All-Americans. They’re always good. They’re physical, hard-nosed and well-coached. It will be a tough game for sure.”

The “she” of whom Graves speaks is Rutgers’ Hall-of-Fame coach, C. Vivian Stringer, who’s team will have to travel long distance again this season to begin tournament play.

“At this particular point in my life, with this team, I don’t care,” Stringer told New Jersey’s Star-Ledger. “I don’t care what people do. We’re happy to play. We appreciate the opportunity.

“It really doesn’t matter. I’m not afraid of anybody. I kick into another gear this time of year. I can hardly sleep. Everything else was a dress rehearsal. The curtain is up. It’s time to put this show on the road.”

The Scarlet Knights will play in their 10th straight NCAA tournament, while the Bulldogs are making their fourth straight appearance.

“People will say we’re going to their place, but as long as we execute and play the defense we played in the Big East tournament, we’ll be OK,” senior forward April Sykes told the Star-Ledger.

No. 23 in the final Associated Press Top 25 poll, Rutgers started the season 15-2 and was ranked as high as No. 7 in the country. It dropped five straight – including 30-point losses to Notre Dame and Connecticut – before winning its last five games of the regular season.

The Scarlet Knights have three players who average double-digits in scoring, led by Khadijah Rushdan and Sykes (both 13.0 points per game). Center Monique Oliver averages 11.8 ppg and leads Rutgers with 7.4 rebounds a game.

The Scarlet Knights finished the season ranked 32nd in the nation in scoring defense, yielding 54.4 points per game.



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