Gonzaga Basketball among the Elite
SPOKANE, Wash. – Five schools have their men’s and women’s basketball programs in the Sweet 16. Four are from the power-five’s Atlantic Coast Conference, and one is from the West Coast Conference. It’s safe to say Gonzaga has cemented itself among the elite basketball schools in the country.
For the sixth time in program history, the Zags’ men’s team will appear in the Sweet 16, while the women’s team makes its fourth appearance. Out of their 10 combined appearances, this is the first time the duo will be making trips to the regional semifinals in the same year.
“I’m pretty much on cloud nine about it,” Gonzaga Athletic Director Mike Roth told the Seattle Times outside the GU locker room following the men’s third round victory over Iowa last Sunday. “As impressive as what our guys did out here tonight — and we put together a great game on both ends of the floor — for our ladies to go on the road and win … that might be our best road win ever in women’s basketball.”
Referring to first-year head coach Lisa Fortier, Roth said, “As great a job as Mark did tonight, Lisa did as great a job down there.”
While the men have enjoyed a season inside the top-10, and were guaranteed a spot in the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, the Bulldog women had to sweat it out on Selection Monday. But, there it was. In the final region released on ESPN’s selection show, in nearly the last game announced, the Gonzaga women saw their name and matchup.
“It’s definitely nerve-wracking to wait and see your name,” GU senior women’s basketball student-athlete Keani Albanez said. “You get that queasy feeling in your stomach, but once we saw we were in, it was very exciting.”
After two stunning victories in Corvallis, Ore., the Zag women aren’t just in; they are one of only 16 teams still playing for the national title.
“It’s very exciting for our community and for our teams,” Fortier said to the media Tuesday. “Mark (Few) came in and gave me a huge hug yesterday. It’s a family place. So when you see everyone in your family doing well, it’s a big deal.”
Out of 351 men’s teams and 349 women’s teams, Gonzaga joins Duke, Louisville, North Carolina, and Notre Dame as the only five schools to have both their women’s and men’s programs still alive in the NCAA Tournament.
“The theme of this team is to celebrate wins,” Few told reporters. “There are so many expectations that they are supposed to do this that it was becoming like a job. We want to take time to celebrate wins,” Few said.
The Gonzaga men opened the NCAA tournament with a second round win over North Dakota State, and then cruised past Iowa. The second-seeded Zags are making their first appearance in the Sweet 16 since 2009.
“Those girls deserve a lot of credit,” GU junior guard Eric McClellan said about the women’s team. “For both teams to be in the Sweet 16, that’s huge for our programs and huge for the school.”
Both the Gonzaga men and women tipped off around 4 p.m. last Sunday. At one time during both first halves, the Zag men and women we’re ahead and eerily shooting the same 14-of-22 (64 percent) shooting from the field.
“It's unbelievable to have both programs doing this well,” 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.”
In the classroom, of the five schools with their men’s and women’s teams still alive in their respective tournaments, GU is near the top in Academic Progress Rate. The Zag women’s 991 APR through 2012-13 is the highest of the five schools, while the men’s 979 is fourth. Their combined average APR of 985 is second only to Duke’s 986.5. The APR is a term-by-term measure of eligibility and retention for Division I student-athletes that was developed as an early indicator of eventual graduation rates.
The Gonzaga men face the lone double-digit seed left in the men’s tournament, 11th-seeded UCLA, in Houston Friday at 4:15 p.m. Pacific Time. The Bulldog women and men may not have a game scheduled simultaneously this time, but the women do have practice inside the Spokane Arena from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
On Saturday, the GU women will play in the second regional semifinal game in Spokane, scheduled for 4 p.m., against second-seeded Tennessee.
Safe to say, it’s a great time to be a Zag.
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