By Jim Meehan The Spokesman-Review
SPOKANE — The Gonzaga Bulldogs got roughly the seed they expected and an opponent they’re familiar with in perhaps the best location logistically of the eight NCAA tournament opening-round sites.
All in all, not a bad draw.
The eighth-seeded Zags (28-6) will face No. 9 Oklahoma State (21-12) — a rematch of a 2012 New Year’s Eve thriller won by GU 69-68 in Stillwater — in the West Regional at approximately 1:40 p.m. Friday at Viejas Arena on the campus of San Diego State.
The Gonzaga-Oklahoma State winner will take on the winner of No. 1 Arizona-No. 16 Weber State.
“It’s nice playing on the West Coast,” junior guard Gary Bell Jr. said. “A lot of our fans can come watch. Hopefully it feels like a home game.”
The Zags know what they’re up against with the Cowboys, an athletic crew led by sophomore guard Marcus Smart that overcame a seven-game Big 12 Conference losing streak to finish the season strong and earn an at-large berth. Six of those seven losses were to NCAA tournament teams.
Oklahoma State responded to its losing streak by winning four straight and five of its last seven. The Cowboys’ last three losses have been in overtime — to Kansas in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals, to Iowa State to close the regular season and to Baylor on Feb. 17.
Gonzaga won its last five — all on the road or on a neutral court in Las Vegas — with one win over BYU (RPI 34) and two over Saint Mary’s (RPI 60).
“They’re probably under-seeded based on how they’re playing right at this particular time,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They’re definitely trending upward, but so are we.”
Six players from each squad played in the December 2012 battle of ranked teams. Kevin Pangos scored 18 of his 23 points in the first half. Former Zag Kelly Olynyk was in foul trouble in the first half before erupting for 21 points in the second half.
Bell connected on a 3-pointer with 37 seconds left to put GU on top 67-65. Smart, who led OSU with 23 points, missed two free throws with 8.7 seconds left and Pangos made a pair of free throws to seal Gonzaga’s win.
“I just watched a little bit of that game,” Pangos said. “Ups and downs like crazy. They made some runs and we made some runs. They’re one of those teams that gets hot and we just have to match that.”
GU players and coaches gathered in the Herak Room inside the McCarthey Athletic Center to watch the selection show. They didn’t have to wait long before Gonzaga’s name popped up on the brackets.
Their ears perked up when some TV analysts quickly picked OSU to advance to a third-round matchup with Arizona.
“We get overlooked,” senior forward Sam Dower Jr. said. “That’s just motivation for us. We have to prove that we want to be the team playing Arizona, but we have to go one game at a time.”
Added Pangos: “They just said Oklahoma State-Arizona, a great matchup. I don’t really take much from it.”
Four Cowboys, paced by Smart’s 17.8 points, average in double digits. OSU led the Big 12 in turnover margin (plus 3.5), steals (7.5), free throws attempted (28.1) and made (20.3). Smart led the team in scoring, assists and steals and was second in rebounding.
“They’re off the charts athletic and so gifted,” said Few, mentioning several Cowboys by name. “That’s crazy talent and ability on one roster.”
Bell will likely draw the defensive assignment on the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Smart.
“That’s just an assumed deal,” Few said of Bell typically guarding the opponent’s top perimeter threat.