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Gonzaga women miss out on chance to return home as NCAA committee ships basketball team to California and, if they win, Kentucky

There were high hopes the Gonzaga women’s basketball team would get another opportunity to play in front of its fans in the postseason.

The Bulldogs were keeping their fingers crossed for a spot in the NCAA Tournament’s Spokane Regional, which could have potentially given Gonzaga a hometown advantage in the regional semifinals next week at the Spokane Arena.

On Monday, however, the NCAA Tournament selection committee put a damper on Gonzaga’s optimism.The Gonzaga women were awarded a No. 13 seed in the Lexington (Kentucky) Regional. But first up is a trip to northern California to play fourth-seeded Stanford. The game starts 3 p.m. Saturday.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say we wish we were in the Spokane Regional,” Gonzaga head coach Lisa Fortier said shortly after the pairings were announced.

Most players agreed.

NCAA rules normally prohibit any team from playing in the regional tournament that it’s hosting. However, Gonzaga had the chance to play in Spokane because the University of Idaho is hosting the tournament. Two wins could have sent the team back to Spokane to play once more in front of their fans.

Instead, Maples Pavilion at Stanford is the closest the Zags will be to Spokane if they roll through the tournament.

“We love our fans and I hope we get a lot to California,” guard Chandler Smith said. “But if we played here, it would have been so much fun.”

The Zags will be missed, but women’s basketball fans in Spokane will still have four impressive teams that will play at the Spokane Arena come next week. Those four will be determined following the last of the second-round games Monday.

Those who have followed the Bulldogs before the Fortier era could be in for a trip down memory lane if second-seeded Oregon advances through the first two rounds in Eugene and lands in Spokane for the Sweet 16. The Ducks are led by former Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves, who led the Zags to seven NCAA Tournament appearances, including an Elite Eight appearance in 2011.

Oregon, of the Pac-12 Conference, opens the tournament against No. 15-seed Seattle University, which is making its first NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.

Notre Dame will likely make a trip to Spokane next week. The Fighting Irish, from the Atlantic Coast Conference, earned the top seed in the Spokane Regional after losing just three times this season. They face 16th-seeded Cal State-Northridge in the first round in South Bend, Indiana.

Ohio State, of the Big Ten, followed by Texas A&M, of the Southeastern Conference, round out the top four seeds of the Spokane Regional.

The Buckeyes open the tournament against George Washington, seeded 14th, in Columbus, Ohio, on Saturday and the Aggies face 13th-seeded Drake in the first round in College Station, Texas, on Friday.

Louisiana State, seeded sixth, could potentially make a trip to Spokane. LSU will face 11th-seeded Central Michigan in the first round in College Station on Saturday.

Green Bay, seeded seventh, could also come to Spokane. The Phoenix face Minnesota, seeded 10th, in Eugene in the first round Friday. A win could put Green Bay in a battle with Oregon in the second round for a spot at the Spokane Arena.

Fifth-seeded DePaul, playing No. 12-seed Oklahoma, also stands a chance at getting through to Spokane.

Eighth-seeded South Dakota State and ninth-seeded Villanova are paired up for the first round and are in the same pod as Notre Dame, which makes a trip to Spokane for either of them unlikely.

This is the sixth time the Spokane Arena has hosted the women’s basketball regional tournament. Spokane was first named the regional site for the women’s NCAA Tournament in 2001. The Arena housed the regional semifinals and championship again in 2008, 2011, 2013 and 2015.

Oklahoma and LSU are the only teams in the Spokane Regional this year that could potentially return to Spokane in a regional semifinal. Oklahoma made the trip in 2001 and lost to University of Washington 84-67 in the Sweet 16. LSU was in Spokane in 2013 and lost the first night to California 73-63.

The Arena has made all-sessions tickets available online for $50 for adults and $35 for children and senior citizens. All-sessions tickets will give fans access to the regional semifinals on March 24 and the regional championship on March 26.

The first semifinal will begin at 1 p.m. The next semifinal will begin roughly 30 minutes after the first game ends.

Tipoff for the regional championship will be at 6 p.m.

 

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