Not 1, but 2 Gonzaga hoops teams in the Sweet 16
SEATTLE (AP) Gonzaga left KeyArena roaring and Gill Coliseum in silence almost simultaneously Sunday.
The Bulldogs are grabbing the spotlight in both the men’s and women’s NCAA Tournament.
”It’s unbelievable,” Gonzaga junior guard Elle Tinkle said. ”Gonzaga is such a special place. I think we’re pretty spoiled as both men’s and women’s programs to have the support of our community … and really people throughout the country. Throughout this year, we haven’t been on some radars, but we just wanted to prove we are just as successful and just as capable of going far in the postseason.”
While the second-seeded Gonzaga men ran past No. 7 seed Iowa in Seattle to reach the round of 16 for the first time since 2009, the 11th-seeded Gonzaga women were pulling off one of the biggest upsets of the women’s tournament, knocking off No. 3 seed Oregon State on its home floor.
The games both tipped right around 4 p.m. PDT. And while the women were celebrating after their 76-64 win in Corvallis, Oregon, the men were wrapping up their 87-68 victory over Iowa. It’s the first time in school history both programs have advanced to the round of 16.
This season, Gonzaga and Duke are the only schools to have both men’s and women’s teams advance to the Sweet 16. The Zags and Blue Devils could be joined by North Carolina and Louisville if their women’s teams win on Monday.
Gonzaga advancing on the men’s side was expected. As the No. 2 seed in the South Region, the Bulldogs had the benefit of playing in Seattle – just four hours from campus and before a partisan crowd.
”The support from the Zag nation to come out here and make this feel like a home game has been great,” Byron Wesley said. ”Playing on the court at this level is something I’ve always dreamed of and I’m just blessed to be here.”
The Gonzaga women faced a more difficult task. Under first-year coach Lisa Fortier, the Bulldogs missed out on the automatic bid from the West Coast Conference after losing in the semifinals of the conference tourney. They were awarded an at-large bid and a No. 11 seed, but had to travel to Oregon State.
The Bulldogs rolled past No. 6 seed George Washington in the opener, then stunned the host Beavers on Sunday. After building a big lead, Oregon State pulled even with 3:30 left, only to see the Bulldogs score the finally 12 points.
”We had success, but people would say we had success in certain situations,” said Fortier, who was promoted after Kelly Graves left to take over at Oregon. ”I’ve been very confident in them all year long and I think they’ve really learned to enjoy our new situation and our new coaching staff. Not that there was anything wrong with the old one.”
Since 1999, when the Gonzaga men began its run of 17 straight NCAA appearances, the Bulldogs men and women both lead the way with the most victories as a double-digit seed according to STATS. The Gonzaga men have eight, most of those coming in the infancy of the Bulldogs’ rise to national prominence.
The Gonzaga women also have eight, including Sunday’s upset, with most of those coming since 2009. The next closest on the women’s side are Florida State, BYU, Marist and Kansas who all have four.
This trip to the regional semifinals will be the fourth since 2010 for the Gonzaga women. And just like in 2011, the Bulldogs get to go home. Gonzaga will make the 2-mile trip from campus over to the Spokane Arena where the regional will be held. Gonzaga will face either No. 2 seed Tennessee or 10th-seeded Pittsburgh in the semifinals on Saturday.
The Gonzaga men have a little longer trip. The Bulldogs have a 1,700-mile flight to Houston and face No. 11 seed UCLA in the round of 16 on Friday.
”We have got a lot of help with the administration, allowing us to grow, and just the community and our donors and everything,” men’s coach Mark Few said. ”It takes a village, literally, to make this happen. And then through it all, it just comes down to having great players. It’s always, always been about the players and being able to attract the best players, and that’s what we got.”
AP Sports Writer Anne M. Peterson in Corvallis, Oregon contributed to this report.