Gonzaga still feels like underdogs against UNC

Mar 19, 2010 - 11:01 PM By TIM BOOTH AP Sports Writer

SEATTLE(AP) -- No one knew where Kelly Graves was, late for his own press conference. He wasn't answering his phone. Staffers were asking everyone if they'd seen the Gonzaga head coach Friday afternoon.

And where was Graves? Stuck outside the interview room, being held up by a security guard because Graves lacked the proper identification.

"Obviously, we're not all that well known. ... It kind of puts you in your place," Graves joked.

Despite unprecedented success, this little incident only added to Graves' belief that his seventh-seeded Bulldogs (27-4) remain unknown and are actually the underdogs Saturday night against No. 10 seed North Carolina (19-11) in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Graves would like you to ignore the Bulldogs' resume: their fifth straight West Coast Conference regular season title, their third conference tourney crown in four years and their 18-game win streak with the closest game decided by 10 points.

With a program like North Carolina on the other side, Graves believes it doesn't matter.

"North Carolina is such a storied program. They go into NCAA tournaments expecting to get to Final Fours. We're not there yet," he said. "We've certainly made great strides over the last decade, but we haven't proven ourselves long term. Until we do that ... that's what we have to carry with us. And I think it's something at our university, on the men's side and our side, it's something we've carried well over the years."

From a name standpoint, there aren't many more eye-catching first-round matchups than the Tar Heels and Bulldogs, who meet in Saturday's late game. The early matchup has second-seeded Texas A&M (25-7), rolling after winning nine of 10 and the Big 12 tournament title, facing 15th-seeded Portland State (18-14).

For Gonzaga, all this is eerily familiar to a year ago. They were sent to Seattle as a No. 12 seed for the 2009 tournament, set to face bigger and stronger Xavier in the first round. Gonzaga beat Xavier 74-59 before falling to fourth-seeded Pittsburgh 65-60 in the second round, an outcome not decided until the final few seconds.

The Bulldogs still feel like that lightly regarded No. 12 seed. The only difference this time is they'll be the ones wearing the home white jerseys in front of what's expected to be a pro-Bulldogs crowd just a five-hour drive from campus.

"There is still a little familiarity behind playing here at this time of year," Gonzaga forward Heather Bowman said. "But this is still definitely a different situation for us."

See a "10" next to North Carolina's seeding is certainly different for everyone associated with the Tar Heels program. It's the lowest NCAA seed in the program's history, although the Tar Heels will take it after dropping eight of their final 11 to put their NCAA hopes in jeopardy.

It's an extremely young team coach Sylvia Hatchell brings into the tournament, part of the reason North Carolina's season enjoyed the highs of beating Duke, a No. 2 seed, but also the lows of a 41-point loss to Connecticut.

Of the six ACC teams in the tourney, the Tar Heels are the lowest seed.

"The seeding doesn't really matter at this point," North Carolina guard Italee Lucas said. "We pretty much are just coming out to play hard and hopefully get the upset."

Whoever comes out between Gonzaga and North Carolina is almost assured of seeing Texas A&M in the next round. While fellow Big 12 foes Nebraska and Baylor got most of the headlines this season, it's the Aggies that surged to the conference tourney title after upsetting Nebraska and then beating Oklahoma in the title game.

After dropping four of five at midseason, the Aggies have lost just once since the middle of February.

"We were able to slip under the radar because of what Nebraska was able to do and what Baylor was able to do ... we've been able to slide and do our thing and get better as a basketball team," Texas A&M head coach Gary Blair said. "We like that right now. Our job is to play well and find a way to advance."

Portland State is making its first NCAA appearance, capping a turnaround that took coach Sherri Murrell just three seasons. Seeded fifth in the Big Sky tournament after a disappointing conference regular season, the Vikings won on three consecutive days, pulling two upsets including a 62-58 win over Montana State in the title game.

"Just being here is all of the motivation that we need," senior guard Claire Faucher said. "It is the first time Portland State has ever been to the dance."

No one has shouted yet.
Be the first!

Related News