Having already punched their ticket to the Big Dance, Gonzaga women’s basketball players sat on folding chairs in front of a big-screen television Monday waiting to find out who they would play in the NCAA tournament.
The bracket flashing Gonzaga’s name drew a collective thud when it showed the Bulldogs were headed to College Station, Texas, as a No. 6 seed to play 11th-seeded James Madison (28-5) on Sunday at 2:30 p.m.
“That’s terrible,” one player said.
Coach Kelly Graves said he liked the No. 6 seed, which is the highest Gonzaga (29-4, ranked 18th) has ever received. But he and the team had hoped to play in Seattle, which would have allowed more fans to join them.
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“I’m going to guess that half to three-quarters of my team has never been to Texas,” he said. “How can we complain when we’ve played five straight NCAAs in the state of Washington?”
This year marks the sixth consecutive year Gonzaga has earned a bid to the tournament. The Bulldogs were a host site the past three years. They played opening round games in Seattle in 2010 and 2009.
Gonzaga will take on a James Madison team that won both the Colonial Athletic Association’s regular-season championship and conference tournament. The team, based in Harrisonburg, Va., has played well on the road, posting a 16-4 record at away or neutral sites.
“I caught them on TV one night. They are similar to us. They are defensive-oriented, athletic and long,” Graves said. “It’s going to be a tough matchup, but at this point everybody is good.”
Gonzaga has a 13-4 record at away or neutral sites.
Senior guard Haiden Palmer said the No. 6 seed shows that GU is getting better national recognition.
“No matter where we are at, we are going to come to play,” she said.
UConn, ND grab No. 1 seeds
All season there has been a buzz about UConn (34-0) and Notre Dame (32-0).
Now the stage is set for the former Big East rivals to meet in a historic national championship game.
It is only the second time that two teams enter the NCAA tournament unbeaten. They are on a collision course to meet in the national-title game. If they do both get to Nashville, the Irish will be all that stands between Geno Auriemma and a record ninth NCAA championship, breaking a tie with Tennessee.
“We really haven’t talked, I bet hardly at all, about this national championship or what number it is or any of that,” Auriemma said.
Despite being the 13th women’s team to go unbeaten during the regular season, the Irish have felt almost unappreciated with most of the talk centered on UConn. Coach Muffet McGraw doesn’t seem to mind.
“I like it because we can get a chip on our shoulder and head into the tournament with a bit of chip,” she said.
Before the potential meeting of unbeatens, the two might have to go through SEC powers Tennessee and South Carolina, who also earned No. 1 seeds. While it’s the 22nd time that the Lady Vols have earned a top spot, it’s the first for the Gamecocks.
Tough road ahead
The NCAA’s drive to boost attendance for its women’s tournament could force three No. 1 seeds to go on the road and beat lower-seeded teams on their home floor to advance.
Though the NCAA already has announced it’s going back to neutral regional sites starting in 2015, teams must live with the format this year.
Defending national champion Connecticut could meet No. 4 seed Nebraska at Lincoln in a regional semifinal. Tennessee, the No. 1 seed in the Louisville Regional, might end up facing Louisville in the regional final. South Carolina, the No. 1 seed in the Stanford Regional, might have to beat Stanford at Maples Pavilion with a Final Four berth at stake.
Louisville, Nebraska, Notre Dame and Stanford were chosen in October as host sites. Notre Dame was the only team from that group to earn a No. 1 seed. Tennessee didn’t bid to host a regional because of a scheduling conflict at Thompson-Boling Arena. Auriemma said his school didn’t bid because he didn’t like the concept of having schools host regionals. “I don’t believe in it,” Auriemma said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report