SALT LAKE CITY — If it’s NCAA Tournament time at the Vivint Smart Home Arena, it must mean a No. 1-seeded Gonzaga team is coming to town.
For the third straight time the NCAAs have been in Salt Lake, Gonzaga is playing as the No. 1 seed in the West Region. This year they’ll play the winner of the Fairleigh Dickinson-Prairie View A&M First Four game, which will be played Tuesday night in Dayton, Ohio.
The Bulldogs are making their 21st straight NCAA appearance and are playing in Salt Lake City for the sixth time. Previously, they played at the Huntsman Center in 1995, 2003 and 2006 in addition to 2013 and 2017 at the Utah Jazz arena.
Gonzaga (30-3), which was ranked No. 1 in last week’s AP poll, lost in the finals of the West Coast Conference tournament to Saint Mary’s Tuesday night. Still, the Bulldogs were able to hold on to an expected No. 1 tournament seed.
“I thought there were seven or eight teams that were definitely worthy of being on that top line,” said Few. “At times we were unbelievable this year and that last game (against Saint Mary’s) we weren’t very good.”
Few said his team was “very upset” about the loss to the Gaels and will come into the tournament extra motivated.
“It’s definitely got the staff and players refocused on the things we’ve done all year and made us successful,” he said. “It’s been a good chance to recalibrate and get back to playing the way we played all year.”
The Zags are led by all-American forward Rui Hachimura, who averages 20.1 points on 60.9 shooting and 6.6 rebounds per game. Brandon Clarke, the grad transfer from San Jose State, averages 16.5 ppg and 8.4 rpg, while shooting 69.3 percent from the field.
Other starters include Zach Norvell Jr. (15.3 ppg), Josh Perkins (11.0 ppg) and Corey Kispert (8.2 ppg). The Bulldogs are also expected to have Killian Tillie, a starter last year, back in the lineup after he missed most of the season with a foot injury.
The Bulldogs beat top-ranked Duke in the Maui Invitational in November and their two nonconference losses came to top teams Tennessee and North Carolina. In WCC play, the Bulldogs breezed to a 16-0 record, winning by an astounding 27 points per game.
Both Fairleigh Dickinson and Prairie View A&M will be looking for their first NCAA victories when they meet Tuesday night at Dayton at 4:30 MT.
The Knights, who are located in Hackensack, New Jersey, won their final eight games, including three wins in the NEC Tournament topped off by an 85-76 win over No. 1 seed Saint Francis in the Northeast Conference finals.
They are led by senior guard Darnell Edge, who averages 16.4 ppg, senior forward Mike Holloway (12.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg) and sophomore guard Jahlil Jenkins (13.5 ppg, 4.5 apg).
Coach Greg Herenda said, “I tell our team all the time that you will forever be judged by what you’re not supposed to do. That’s what we do. It would make history and put our program in another place. That’s our goal.”
Prairie View A&M is located northwest of Houston and plays in the Southwest Athletic Conference. Gary Blackston leads the team in scoring at 15.2 ppg and rebounding at 7.0 rpg. Devonte Patterson averages 13.4 ppg, while Dennis Jones leads the team in assists at 4.5 per game.
The Panthers started off the season with a win over Santa Clara and then lost their next 11 games before winning their final nonconference game. However once they got to conference play, they won every game but one, going 17-1 and then winning three games in the SWAC Tournament, defeating Texas Southern 92-86 in the finals.
Gonzaga (30-3, 16-0) vs. Fairleigh Dickinson (20-13, 12-6) or Prairie View A&M (22-12, 17-1)
- Gonzaga: Rui Hachimura (20.1 ppg), Brandon Clarke (8.4 rpg), Josh Perkins (6.5 apg)
- Fairleigh Dickinson: Darnell Edge (16.4 ppg) Mike Holloway (5.5 rpg), Jahlil Jenkins (4.5 apg)
- Prairie View A&M: Gary Blackston (15.2 ppg, 7.0 rpg), Dennis Jones (4.5 apg)
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- Gonzaga: Duke 89-87, Texas A&M 94-71
- Fairleigh Dickinson: Princeton 77-66, Army 93-84
- Prairie View A&M: Santa Clara 81-64, Texas Southern 92-86
- Gonzaga: Saint Mary’s 60-47
- Fairleigh Dickinson: St. Francis 87-62
- Prairie View A&M: Seattle 102-64
- Gonzaga: This will mark Gonzaga’s sixth NCAA Tournament appearance in Salt Lake.
- Fairleigh Dickinson: FDU is located in Hackensack, New Jersey and has lost all five previous NCAA contests, including a play-in defeat in 2016.
- Prairie View A&M: The Texas school is making its first NCAA appearance since 1998, which was its only NCAA game in history.