Five-on-five, the sixth-ranked Tennessee Lady Vols are better than the unranked Gonzaga Bulldogs
. That’s why the GU women are counting on about 9,000 of their friends to help them out Saturday afternoon when Tennessee and the Zags tangle at the Spokane Arena in the Sweet 16 round of the NCAA tournament.
“We’re so fortunate to have the support here,” Gonzaga forward Sunny Greinacher said at a Friday afternoon press conference in the arena.
“Our fans are amazing to us,” guard Keani Albanez added, “and to be able to play in front of those fans again, that just means to world to me.”
The Bulldogs, who had to hold their breath to find out if they would even be picked to play in the NCAA tournament, went 2-0 on the opening weekend of play to earn the right to play at least one more game in Spokane.
The Bulldogs are 26-7 and seeded 11th in the 16-team Spokane Region. Gonzaga has knocked off No. 6 seed George Washington (of Washington, D.C.) and No. 3 seed Oregon State in Corvallis. Now they face No. 2 seed Tennessee
(29-5), the eight-time NCAA champion, on ESPN at 4 p.m.
ESPN also carries the 1:30 p.m. contest between fourth-ranked Maryland (32-2), the No. 1 seed, and 16th-ranked Duke (23-10), the No. 4 seed. Ticket sales for the Spokane games — including Monday’s Elite Eight contest, a Final Four qualifier — skyrocketed after Gonzaga pulled off two upsets in Corvallis.
The Bulldogs rank among the national leaders in women’s basketball attendance with a 5,366 average at the 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center on GU's campus. Of course, Tennessee averages almost twice as many home fans (10,413), and the Lady Vols recently played in front of 14,390 mostly enemy fans at South Carolina.
“We haven’t even discussed the crowd, to be honest with you,” Tennessee coach Holly Warlick said. “Our schedule is pretty tough, and we have been in some pretty tough environments.”
Both teams have balanced scoring, but no overwhelming individuals. The Lady Vols lost leading scorer and rebounder Isabelle Harrison with a blown knee last month.