Confirming what teams and coaches have expected for two months, the NCAA announced Friday that the entire Division 1 women’s basketball tournament will be held in the San Antonio area.
Sixty-four teams will play at five sites in a 14-day schedule, beginning with first-round games set for March 21 and ending with the national title game on April 4.
There are no guarantees, of course. Last year’s event was wiped out by the COVID-19 pandemic and hundreds of games have been canceled or postponed this year.
Also, there has been no decision on fan attendance.
If general public attendance is determined appropriate, the attendance policy will follow the established local guidelines, the NCAA said in a statement.
The announcement, however, represents a light at the end of the tunnel for teams that expect to make the 64-team field.
“I assumed it would happen, but there’s still this defense mechanism after all that’s happened,” Gonzaga coach Lisa Fortier said.
“But we’ve shown that we can play a basketball season, so there’s no reason to think we can’t do this,” Fortier said.
Few teams lost as much to last year’s cancellation as Gonzaga, which went 28-3 and had been penciled in to host first- and second-round tournament games at the Kennel.
On top of that, the Spokane Arena had been scheduled to host regionals.
“We are a little bit jaded, just taking it one game at a time,” Fortier said.
This year’s GU team has the potential to go as high as a No. 4 seed, although the Zags may need to run the table in the West Coast Conference.
Gonzaga is ranked 17th in the NCAA’s NET rankings, a major tool in determining seeding; that equates to a No. 5 seed.
Bracketologist Charlie Crème of ESPN has the Zags as a No. 6 seed, facing Atlantic Coast Conference school Clemson in the first round.
As of Friday, Gonzaga is 16th in the Rating Percentage Index, or RPI. That’s a gain of four spots, thanks partly to the Zags’ 63-56 win over BYU on Tuesday.
Fortier believes that apart from getting a more favorable draw, seeding means less than it would in a normal season.
“There won’t be a home-court advantage,” Fortier said.
Friday’s announcement solidifies the tentative plans that have been in the works since late fall, when the NCAA decided to hold the entire men’s tournament in Indianapolis.
The Alamodome was previously chosen as the site for this year’s Women’s Final Four, but the COVID-19 pandemic caused officials to think about conducting the tournament in a manageable geographic area that limits travel.
A tournament committee also focused on a single region to conduct safety measures in a controlled environment with competition and practice venues, medical resources and lodging for teams and officials all in close proximity.
March Madness will begin with Selection Monday on March 15.
First-round games are scheduled for March 21 and 22 at five sites: the Alamodome, Bill Greehey Arena, Frank Erwin Center, the UTSA Convocation Center and Strahan Arena.
The first four sites are in San Antonio; Strahan Arena is in San Marcos, Texas, about 50 miles to the northeast.
Second-round games will be played March 23 and 24 at the Alamodome, Bill Greehey Arena and the UTSA Convocation Center.
Subsequent rounds (Sweet 16 on March 27-28, Elite Eight on March 29-30 and the Final Four on April 2 and April 4) will be contested at the Alamodome.
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