If the Gonzaga women were disappointed on Selection Monday, they didn’t show it.
The smiles were so wide and the cheers so loud, you’d swear the Zags had just been handed a bye into next week’s Spokane Regional.
They weren’t, of course. Despite a 27-5 record, they were stuck with a 13 seed and a daunting first-round game Saturday at Stanford in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Should the Zags manage to win that game and then beat Missouri or Florida Gulf Coast in the second round, their reward will be a cross-country trip to the regional in Lexington, Kentucky.
Coaches, players and fans were expecting better, but this was no time to ponder the what-ifs. Selection Monday was the reward for work that began soon after last year’s tournament.
“We’re just happy to be in the NCAA Tournament,” said coach Lisa Fortier, who led the Zags to the West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles for the second straight year.
When Gonzaga’s name flashed on the big screen at the Herak Club, forward Zykera Rice’s fingers moved into texting mode.
“I think it took about zero-point-five seconds,” said Rice, who already looked forward to mixing it up with Stanford at Maples Pavilion – the same venue where the Zags won a regular-season game in November of 2016.
Rice was there for that game, but was ill with mono and couldn’t play.
“But I took a lot of notes,” she said with a smile. Rice can’t wait for the opportunity, which is what March Madness is all about.
Leave it to Jill Barta – who does much of the heavy lifting for this team – to lighten the mood even more.
“I think it’s a great matchup, and it’s in California – who can complain about that?” Barta said.
Well, a few. Local fans have seen GU for the last time this season, while the 13 seed was lower than any national bracketologists had predicted during the last few weeks.
One of the most prominent, Charlie Creme of ESPN, came close. He had GU coming to Stanford, but as a 12 seed and thereby avoiding a first-round game with the Cardinal.
Fortier too thought that was a plausible choice. Another was being sent to Eugene as a 10 seed for a possible second-round matchup with host Oregon and Kelly Graves, her predecessor at GU.
Also in the mix was being sent east as a higher seed but with the reward chance to win their way back to Spokane.
The NCAA added a fourth possibility: none of the above. The Zags had an RPI of 34 but had a strength of schedule that ranked only 103rd.
Like the men’s team, the Zags were punished for the company they keep; of 10 teams in the WCC, eight were 130 or lower in RPI. GU also paid the price for some nonconference losses.
This was no time to ponder the what-ifs. “You get what you get, and we have to make the most of it,” Fortier said.
And now they will.
If the NCAA Tournament is about embracing opportunity, the Gonzaga women have their arms open wide.
“I’m excited,” said Fortier, a native of Northern Californian. “My family will be there and a lot of players’ families, so there’s a bunch of benefits.”