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No. 17 just as special as the first for Zags

Lawrence Alexander, left, is the Bison’s go-to player, averaging 18.9 points per game for the Summit champions. (Associated Press)
Lawrence Alexander, left, is the Bison’s go-to player, averaging 18.9 points per game for the Summit champions. (Associated Press)

There were few Selection Sunday surprises for Gonzaga, which begins its NCAA tournament trek close to home – at Seattle’s KeyArena – with the expected seeding – No. 2.

The Zags (32-2) face Summit League champion North Dakota State (23-9) at approximately 7 p.m. Friday. Gonzaga is in the South Region, as many bracket gurus projected. Duke is the South’s top seed, Iowa State is No. 3 and Georgetown, which takes on Eastern Washington on Thursday night in Portland, is No. 4.

The Gonzaga-North Dakota State winner faces the winner of No. 7 Iowa-No. 10 Davidson. GU is in the NCAAs for the 17th straight year, the last 16 under coach Mark Few.

“It’s a great day. I know a lot of people take this day for granted but we don’t, the players don’t, the coaches don’t and people close to us in the athletic department don’t,” Few said. “It’s something really special when your name comes up. This year it’s close enough for our fans to get there and that makes it more enjoyable.

“It’s a great reward for an incredible regular season by our guys.”

The Zags seemingly have been locked into a two seed since defeating BYU in the WCC tournament title game Tuesday. They avoided being assigned to the same region as unbeaten Kentucky, which is the top seed in the Midwest.

Selection committee chair Scott Barnes said in a radio interview that six teams were under consideration for No. 1 seeds. GU wasn’t in that discussion.

Gonzaga players’ main concern was location and Seattle is ideal for the opening weekend.

“I think we’re going into it in great shape,” freshman forward Domantas Sabonis said. “Our last three games (in Las Vegas) we really stepped up our game.

“It’ll be great to be in Seattle. Our fan base can get there and we hope it’s full of GU fans.”

Texts started pouring into senior guard Gary Bell Jr.’s phone shortly after the pairings were announced.

“My phone definitely blew up but I only get two tickets,” Bell said. “They’re going to my parents. The tickets are so expensive my family can’t afford them so it’s probably just going to be my mom and dad.”

Gonzaga plays the Battle in Seattle annually at KeyArena. With Bell and Kevin Pangos starting at guard, the Zags have won the last four Battles, including a 63-50 victory over Cal Poly this season. Pangos and Przemek Karnowski both scored 16 points.

Pangos made 4 of 7 3-pointers. The rest of the Zags went 1 of 6 from distance.

“I think I shot it OK,” Pangos said with a smile, “especially in the second half.”

The Zags took a couple days off after winning the WCC tournament.

They practiced Friday and Saturday. Kyle Wiltjer (hip, shoulder) said he practiced without limitation.

“Back to normal,” said Wiltjer, the WCC tournament’s most outstanding player. “I’m just continuing to get treatment so I can feel even better.”

North Dakota State shared the Summit League regular-season title with South Dakota State but was the two seed for the tournament.

The Bison edged South Dakota State 57-56 in the championship game behind senior guard Lawrence Alexander’s 25 points.

The Bison upset Oklahoma last year in the opening round at the Spokane Arena. Alexander’s 3-pointer sent the game into overtime.

NDSU starts three guards and a fourth, 6-foot-6 A.J. Jacobson, is listed as a guard/forward. Starting forward Chris Kading, 6-8 and 240 pounds, is the team’s biggest player, which indicates Gonzaga should have a size advantage inside.

“Their scores are low so it looks like they want to play possession basketball,” Few said. “It’s a team that’s been in the NCAAs and won a game in the NCAAs so they’re definitely battled-tested.”

Zags tickets

Gonzaga expects to sell out its 500 allotted tickets to Bulldog Club members, based on a “priority points” formula. More information is available at www.GoZags.com.

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