Having already punched their ticket to the Big Dance, the women’s basketball players at Gonzaga sat on folding chairs in front of a big-screen television Monday, waiting to find out where they would be seeded and who they would play in the NCAA women’s tournament’s first round.
After initially showing excitement after EPSN played a cameo of Stephanie Golden dancing in front of her teammates in the selection show’s opening segment, the bracket flashing Gonzaga’s name drew a collective thud when it showed the No. 6-seeded Bulldogs headed to College Station, Texas, to play No. 11 seed James Madison (28-5).
“That’s terrible,” one Zags player said to no one in particular.
Coach Kelly Graves said he liked the No. 6 seed, which is the highest Gonzaga’s women’s program has ever received. But he and the team had hoped to play in Seattle, which would have
allowed more fans to travel with them.
“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 and played opening-round games in Seattle in 2009 and 2010.
“I think we’ve been discounted, at times, because we’ve played our NCAA games in (Spokane and Seattle),” Graves said. “But in a lot of those wins, it wouldn’t have mattered where we played.”
No. 18 Gonzaga (29-4) will take on a James Madison team that won both the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season and tournament titles. The Dukes have played well on the road, posting a 16-4 record at away and 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.”
Graves will give his players Wednesday off before practicing broad concepts on Thursday. The team will then get the full James Madison scouting report on Friday before traveling to College Station.
The team will go over film on Saturday in preparation for Sunday’s game that starts at 2:30 p.m. Host and No. 3 seed Texas A&M (24-8) will play No. 14-seeded North Dakota (22-9) at 5 p.m. Sunday. The winners of both those games play Tuesday.
“I woke up this morning and it felt like Christmas. We get to find out who we are going to play,” Zags junior Lindsay Sherbert said. “I looked (James Madison) up. They’ve played a lot of good teams and won some big games.”
Senior guard Haiden Palmer said the No. 6 seed shows that Gonzaga is getting more national recognition.
“No matter where we are at, we are going to come to play,” she said. “When we are flying around and having fun, that’s when we are at our best.”
Golden, a senior center, feels if nothing else, she hopes to find some Southern cooking while in Texas.
“I think we are just excited to prove we can play with any team and win on somebody else’s court,” she said.