'Such an amazing feeling': Gonzaga women earn No. 4 seed, will host first two rounds of NCAA Tournament

An Amazing Feeling: Gonzaga Women Secure No. 4 Seed and the Privilege to Host Opening Rounds of NCAA Tournament

Excitement has returned to the Gonzaga women’s basketball team.

In a nail-biting moment during the Selection Show on Sunday, it all boiled down to the final fourth seed decision. The choice was between Gonzaga, boasting an impressive 30-3 record, and Utah, with a 21-9 tally.

Joy erupted in the Gonzaga’s Gaffney Champions Room as the team discovered they would play at least one more game at the McCarthey Athletic Center, possibly even two.

The Zags are set to face the No. 13 UC Irvine Anteaters, who secured a 53-39 victory over UC Davis in the Big West Tournament championship game on Saturday.

Earlier in the week, the mood was somber when Gonzaga experienced a surprising defeat to Portland, with a close score of 67-66, in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game.

However, this loss didn’t spell the end of their hopes.

Gonzaga stands among five teams in the tournament with 30 or more wins. The defending national champion, South Carolina, with a perfect 32-0 record, clinched the top seed.

The McCarthey Athletic Center will also welcome No. 5 Utah (21-9) and South Dakota State (25-5).

The anticipation was palpable as the Zags awaited their tournament fate. Their inclusion was certain, but their seeding was up in the air, especially after the loss to Portland, which seemed to jeopardize their No. 4 seed position.

The first fourth seed was awarded to Kansas State, contrary to ESPN bracketologist Charlie Creme’s prediction, which had placed them as a potential fifth seed in Spokane.

Gonzaga’s coach Lisa Fortier and assistant Stacy Clinesmith shared a moment of uncertainty, which was soon replaced by relief and joy as the final Portland Regional bracket was unveiled.

Graduate forward Eliza Hollingsworth described the moment as a rollercoaster of emotions, ending in an incredible feeling of relief and excitement.

This year marks a significant milestone for Gonzaga, hosting for the first time since 2013, when the NCAA began assigning host berths based on merit rather than bids. This is also the highest seed Gonzaga has ever achieved, surpassing their previous best of fifth. The team has consistently made it to the NCAA Tournament for seven consecutive years, a streak only interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic in 2019-20.

Coach Fortier expressed her joy not only for the team but also for Spokane and her staff, embracing the new challenge with excitement.

As Fortier addressed the media, her assistants were already hard at work gathering information on UC Irvine, their upcoming opponent.

Fortier, who has previously coached NCAA Tournament games as an assistant, shared her thoughts on preparing for the possibility of hosting, a goal that seemed uncertain after their last game.

The team’s nonconference schedule was strategically toughened, at one point ranking as the fifth most challenging in the nation, a move that Fortier believes was crucial in securing their host seed.

Before the team selection was revealed, Fortier and her players were anxiously monitoring their heart rates, indicative of the tension and anticipation they felt.

Gonzaga and UC Irvine share four common opponents, providing a basis for comparison and strategy.

After the loss to Portland, Fortier gave her team a couple of days off, hoping to turn the setback into a motivational force.

Fortier reflected on the emotional journey, from frustration to introspection, and finally to a renewed focus on what they can control, setting the stage for a determined comeback in the tournament.