As if her resume isn’t already impressive enough, C. Vivian Stringer can probably etch psychic onto the list.
Like all other at-large hopefuls, the Hall of Fame coach and her Rutgers basketball team gathered last Monday to watch the NCAA women’s selection show.
When the announcement was made and the No. 6 Scarlet Knights discovered they’d be traveling 2,500 miles to dance in Spokane against 11th-seeded Gonzaga – the “home” team – in the opening round of the women’s NCAA tournament, the room was relatively quiet.
The team’s lack of reaction was dubbed by local media outlets in New Jersey as dissatisfaction, as recent tournament history has forced the Scarlet Knights to travel long distances to open the tournament despite being a higher-seeded team.
The disappointed look on Stringer’s face, however, was misleading.
“I looked at where the different sites were and I considered, ‘What (is) the greatest distance from us?’ ” Stringer said in Friday’s press conference at Gonzaga’s McCarthey Athletic Center. “When it happened, I had a kind of bewildered, shocked look. But that look was really just, ‘Why do I get this right all the time?’
“Having said that, I know that we invite any competition, and this is certainly a great competition and a real challenge,” Stringer added. “I saw (this) as an opportunity for us to really get out and see the world. That was my reaction – very excited. One thing that I wasn’t, was disappointed, and I wasn’t disappointed because (this) is what I said was going to happen.”
What happens today when the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Stringer’s Scarlet Knights tip off at 1:15 p.m. at McCarthey Athletic Center is a lot less predictable.
This will be the first time the schools have played each other: Rutgers, a storied program, and Gonzaga, a relative newcomer to the national scene within the last decade. Both were often ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 this season.
“That is the biggest mismatch here – Coach Stringer against me,” Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said. “She has won 500-plus more games than I have coached … she is terrific. They’re just a very good team, and so are we. So we’ll wait and see what prevails.”
One aspect that has been overly discussed this week as the Bulldogs have prepared for the matchup is the home-court factor. This year’s tournament marks the second straight season that Gonzaga has hosted the first and second rounds.
Also a No. 11 seed in 2011, the Bulldogs took down sixth-seeded Iowa in the first round and followed up by ousting No. 3 UCLA. They didn’t have to travel far for the Sweet Sixteen, beating No. 7 Louisville at the Spokane Arena before falling to top-seeded Stanford in the Elite Eight. If the Bulldogs advance past the second round this year, they’ll head to Kingston, R.I.
While Graves and some of the players acknowledged the advantage of playing in front of a home crowd, the Bulldogs won’t be focusing on that piece of the puzzle.
“I am not sure if the word relief is the word I would use,” Graves said. “I think the reality is we feed off the crowd as we always do. But it still comes down to the 10 players that are on the court, execution and doing all of those kinds of things.”