Gonzaga women earn No. 9 seed in NCAA tournament, will face Nebraska in first round
March 13, 2022 Updated Sun., March 13, 2022 at 10:07 p.m.
Gonzaga women’s basketball players Cierra Walker, center left, and Melody Kempton celebrate with their teammates at the McCarthey Athletic Center on Sunday. (Kathy Plonka/The Spokesman-Review)Buy a print of this photo
The wait was worth it.
Three-quarters of the way through Sunday’s NCAA Tournament selection show, the Gonzaga women had spent more time groaning than cheering.
Nearly every Zag had their destination of choice, with none of them fulfilled.
Suddenly, their name flashed on a screen: Gonzaga will play on Friday night in Louisville, Kentucky, against Nebraska.
Momentarily caught off-guard, the players hesitated before leaping from their seats, cell phones out to capture the moment.
“It’s a big deal,” GU Coach Lisa Fortier said. “As a player, that’s the stuff you remember.”
Tipoff is at 5 p.m. PDT at the 22,000-seat KFC Yum! Center in downtown Louisville. The winner will advance to a second-round game Sunday, probably against host Louisville, the top seed in the Wichita, Kansas, Regional.
The big surprise – and a very pleasant one – was the Zags’ seed. Penciled in for an 11 or perhaps a 12, they earned a 9 seed.
“I’m surprised,” Fortier said after the show. “We have never been a 9 seed. I think it shows some respect for our body of work along with who we played and how we played them. Hopefully we will be able to go out and be successful.”
Everyone agreed that the Zags’ stock was boosted by their upset of 15th-ranked BYU in the West Coast Conference last week.
Two weeks ago, they were sitting on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Now they’re 26-6 and riding a five-game win streak.
“Beating BYU definitely helped us a lot and gave our team a lot of momentum going into the NCAA Tournament,” senior guard Cierra Walker said.
Another senior, Melody Kempton, said she was “super excited” at the opportunity.
“I just feel honored to have that 9 seed and I’m excited to see what happens next,” Kempton said.
Most likely that will be some strategizing over how to stop one of the best 3-point shooting teams in Division 1.
The Cornhuskers put up 759 long-range shots – ninth-most in the country – hitting 35.6% of them.
“I guess we’ll start with that,” Kempton said.
Under fifth-year coach Amy Williams, the Cornhuskers are 24-8 overall and 11-7 in the Big Ten Conference, which sent six teams to the tournament.
Nebraska also finished strongly, winning five straight until falling to Iowa in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, 83-66.
“They play in a tough conference and have done well,” Fortier said.
The Cornhuskers are balanced, with four players averaging double-figure scoring but with no one scoring more than 13.1 points.
Nebraska is led by guard Jaz Shelley, a sophomore from Australia who’s played on that country’s U-19 international team.
Shelley averages 13.1 points while shooting 41% from beyond the arc. She’s only 5-foot-9 but averages 6.5 rebounds.
Alexis Markowski, a 6-3 freshman from Lincoln, averages 12.8 points and a team-high eight boards.
The Cornhuskers are deep, with seven players averaging at least 19 minutes. Among them is Eastern Washington transfer Bella Cravens, a junior forward.
The teams have two common opponents, San Diego and Wyoming. The Zags swept the Toreros in two WCC games, winning by 10 points in Spokane and by 26 on the road.
Nebraska played at San Diego in late November, winning 64-56.
Both teams struggled against Wyoming, with GU winning by 7 at home early in the season and Nebraska beating the Cowgirls 72-61 in Lincoln, Neb.
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