SEATTLE – The biggest understatement of the women’s basketball season was uttered on Monday by Gonzaga senior Elle Tinkle, after the Bulldogs drew an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
“Eleven seeds are something we’ve been OK with,” Tinkle said with a smile – and a lot of sarcasm.
Yes, Elle, the Bulldogs are “OK” with it: Three times in the last six years, GU has lived in 11th heaven.
This year, it’s merely a state of mind, pending the outcome of Saturday’s first-round game against sixth-seeded Oklahoma at Alaska Airlines Arena.
But consider the past – the GU players certainly do:
In March 2011, Courtney Vandersloot led the home-standing Bulldogs to wins over sixth seed Iowa and No. 3 seed UCLA. A week later, they knocked off Louisville before falling to top seed Stanford in the regional finals.
A year later, Kayla Standish, Katelan Redmon and Haiden Palmer carried a balanced GU team past Rutgers and Miami before falling to second-seeded Kentucky in the region semifinals in distant Kingston, R.I.
Finally, in 2015 – Lisa Fortier’s first year as head coach – GU had to make do with taking an 11th seed on the road to Corvallis. No problem: After beating sixth-seeded George Washington, the Bulldogs knocked off host Oregon State 76-64 to again reach the regionals.
Tinkle was there, along with Emma Stach, Emma Wolfram and Kiara Kudron – and all will be on the court against the Sooners.
GU’s success as a No. 11 seed is hard to explain. Homecourt advantage in 2011 and 2012 certainly helped, but that wasn’t the case two years ago.
Perhaps the Bulldogs thrive as an underdog. How else to explain that they’re 7-3 as an 11th seed, since 11th seeds are only 28-64 in the first round since the women’s tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1994?
Also, the 2011 team is the lowest-seeded squad in NCAA history to reach the regional round.
“It’s called March Madness for a reason,” Wolfram said. “We’re an 11 seed, and we’ve had some luck with that in the past.”