Gonzaga has played the first round of the NCAA women’s tournament in its home state of Washington each year since 2009. Not this time.
The sixth-seeded Bulldogs, who take on No. 11 seed James Madison on Sunday in their NCAA opener, were not upset about the 2,000-mile trip to College Station.
Many of the players were excited to visit the Lone Star state for the first time.
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"We were very fortunate to play in front of the great fans at home in Spokane," Gonzaga’s Jazmine Redmon said. "We’re really excited to play in front of these Texas fans, though. We heard they love women’s basketball."
James Madison (28-5) and Gonzaga (29-4) are very similar teams – so similar in fact that Bulldogs coach Kelly Graves and Dukes coach Kenny Brooks have had a good time joking about it.
"When we watch tape of each other, it looks like an intra-squad scrimmage," Graves said with a laugh. Brooks agreed and called Gonzaga a "mirror image" of his team.
Gonzaga has three players averaging double figures in scoring – Haiden Palmer (15.1), Sunny Greinacher (11.6) and Lindsay Sherbert (10.9) – while James Madison is even more balanced with four: Kirby Burkholder (18.3), Precious Hall (13.6), Toia Giggetts (13.2) and Jazmon Gwathmey (10.1).
Palmer is second in the nation with 3.1 steals per game for Gonzaga, which has a rotation boasting 10 players averaging at least 10 minutes.
This marks the Bulldogs’ sixth straight appearance in the NCAA tournament and seventh overall – all of them coming since 2007. Gonzaga entered the West Coast Conference tournament as the top seed and beat BYU 71-57 in the final to claim its second straight title and fifth in six seasons.
The last time Gonzaga played an opening-round game in the NCAA tournament outside its home state was in 2007, when it lost to Middle Tennessee State on the Stanford campus.
The Dukes, coming off their third Colonial Athletic Association tournament crown, are playing in their 11th tournament but first since 2011.
Burkholder, the CAA’s player of the year, is so dangerous from 3-point range that the school’s band invented a word for when she makes a 3-pointer. The band and crowd chants: "You got Kirby’d."
They had plenty of opportunities to use the chant this season as Burkholder led the league with 106 3-pointers.
The teams have met only once before with James Madison winning 72-66 in the Cablevision Classic in Lincoln, Neb., during the 1995-96 season.