Having already punched their ticket to the Big Dance, Gonzaga women’s basketball players sat on folding chairs in front of a big-screen television Monday waiting to find out who they would play in the NCAA tournament.
After initially showing excitement after EPSN played a cameo of Stephanie Golden dancing in front of her teammates in the selection show’s opening segment, the bracket flashing Gonzaga’s name drew a collective thud when it showed the Bulldogs were headed to College Station, Texas, as a No. 6 seed to play 11th-seeded James Madison (28-5).
“That’s terrible,” one player said to no one in particular.
Coach Kelly Graves said he liked the No. 6 seed, which is the highest Gonzaga has ever received. But he and the team had hoped to play in Seattle, which would have allowed more fans to travel to support them.
“I’m going to guess that half to three-quarters of my team has never been to Texas,” he said. “How can we complain when we’ve played five straight NCAAs in the state of Washington?”
This marks the sixth consecutive year Gonzaga has earned a bid to the tournament. The Bulldogs were a host site the past three years. They played opening-round games in Seattle in 2010 and 2009.
“I think we’ve been discounted, at times, because we’ve played our NCAA games in (Spokane and Seattle),” Graves said. “But in a lot of those wins, it wouldn’t have mattered where we played.”
No. 18-ranked Gonzaga will take on a James Madison team that won both the Colonial Athletic Association’s regular season and conference tournament championships. The team, based in Harrisonburg, Va., has played well on the road, posting a 16-4 record at away or neutral sites.
“I caught them on TV one night. They are similar to us. They are defensive-oriented, athletic and long,” Graves said. “It’s going to be a tough matchup, but at this point everybody is good.”
Gonzaga (29-4) has a 13-4 record at away or neutral sites.
Graves will give his players Wednesday off before practicing broad concepts from James Madison on Thursday. The team will then get the full scouting report on Friday before traveling to College Station.
The team will go over film on Saturday in preparation for the Sunday game that starts at 2:30 p.m. PDT. Host, and No. 3 seed, Texas A&M (24-8) plays No. 14 seed North Dakota (22-9) at 5 p.m. Sunday. The winners play on Tuesday.
“I woke up this morning and it felt like Christmas. We get to find out who we are going to play,” junior Lindsay Sherbert said. “I looked (James Madison) up. They’ve played a lot of good teams and won some big games.”
Senior guard Haiden Palmer said the No. 6 seed shows that Gonzaga is getting better national recognition.
“No matter where we are at, we are going to come to play,” she said. “When we are flying around and having fun, that’s when we are at our best.”
Golden, a senior center, said if nothing else, she hopes to find southern cooking while in Texas.
“I think we are just excited to prove we can play with any team and win on somebody else’s court,” she said.