Tracking the Zags: Story No. 1
By Peter Tormey
The Gonzaga University Bulldogs received a No. 3 seed into the Oakland Regional of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday. The 27-3 Bulldogs will face No. 14-seed Xavier University at the University of Utah’s Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Game time is to be announced by CBS, likely on Monday.
Mark Few, head coach of the Bulldogs, ranked No. 4 in both the Associated Press and ESPN/Coaches polls, said he has the utmost respect for the 21-10 Cincinnati-based Musketeers who earned an automatic bid into the tournament by capturing the Atlantic-10 Conference Championship. Xavier and Gonzaga are both Jesuit universities.
“I’ve always had great respect for the job they’ve done there,” Few said. “They remind me a lot of what we’ve done here. They have had deep runs in the tournament and it seems like they are always in the tournament.”
This is Gonzaga’s eighth-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and their ninth appearance overall; the Bulldogs are 10-8 in tournament games. This marks the Musketeers’ 17th NCAA Tournament appearance; they are 11-16 in tournament games and have not played a tournament game in Salt Lake City.
The Bulldogs also received a No. 3 seed last year in the Albuquerque Region. This will be the Bulldogs’ third tournament appearance in the city where former Zag John Stockton played his NBA All Star career for the Utah Jazz. The Zags are 1-2 in NCAA Tournament play in Salt Lake City. As a No. 14 seed in 1994, they lost to Maryland; but in 2003, as an at-large No. 9 seed, they beat No. 8-seeded Cincinnati before losing in double-overtime to No. 1 seed Arizona.
Few said he was a bit surprised to see Xavier as low as a No. 14 seed, saying the Musketeers are usually seeded higher. However, Few said he knows Xavier is a very good team that plays tough, hard-nosed defense.
“We knew we would have a very difficult game in the first round and we do have one,” Few said, adding that come tournament time, “you’d better have your hard-hat on and be ready to go.”
Senior forward J.P. Batista said the leg he injured in the West Coast Conference Tournament semifinal win over San Diego is feeling much better.
“I’m doing well. I’m not 100 percent but I’m close. I’ve been doing a lot of treatment,” Batista said. “We had practice yesterday and I was on the court 95 percent of the practice and it felt great. My lateral movement is not 100 percent but we have some time to go until Thursday and I hope to be 100 percent by then.”
Batista also had high praise for Xavier.
“I know that they are a really tough and hard-nosed team and obviously they will be coming at us,” said the senior from Brazil. “From now on there are no easy games.”
The two teams have met only once before, on Dec. 23, 1960, when the Musketeers won 87-82. Gonzaga holds the nation’s longest winning streak at 18 games.
Gonzaga Athletic Director Mike Roth said each school in the tournament will receive 450 tickets at sold-out sites and that he expects Gonzaga will be able to accommodate fewer than 10 percent of its season ticketholders.
If the Zags win Thursday they will play Saturday against the winner of the Indiana/San Diego State game. Indiana (18-11) is a No. 6 seed at-large entry from the Big 10 Conference. San Diego State (24-8), winner of the Mountain West Conference Tournament, is seeded No. 11.
Ticket information will be posted on the GoZags.com site late Sunday evening and Gonzaga officials urged fans to please refrain from calling the GU Ticket Office at this time.