11th -seeded Huskies play Marquette in first round of NCAA tourney

SEATTLE — Washington’s two top college basketball powers are traveling to begin the NCAA tournament.

Gonzaga (26-6) is a No. 8 seed in the West region and will travel to Buffalo, N.Y., to face ninth-seeded Florida State (22-9) on Friday in the first round of its 12th consecutive NCAA tournament, the selection committee announced Sunday.

And Pac-10 tournament champion Washington is an 11th seed in the East region in its second consecutive tournament. The surging Huskies (24-9) will meet sixth-seeded Marquette (22-11) in San Jose, Calif., on Thursday.

Gonzaga and Florida State have never met. The Seminoles entered the Atlantic Coast Conference as a third seed with a 10-6 league record, then lost on Friday to North Carolina State.

The Bulldogs lost a chance to play their first NCAA games at home in Spokane — and apparently any chance for a favorable draw — when they lost in the West Coast Conference finals to Saint Mary’s. Their potential reward should they get past the Seminoles in Buffalo: Syracuse, the top seed in the West region. The Orange will be playing down the road from home on Friday against Vermont.

The folks are the other side of the Evergreen State are thrilled. Their Huskies rallied with seven straight wins and 12 victories in their final 14 games, including Saturday’s race past California, the Pac-10’s regular-season champion. Washington had spent January and February wondering how it could possibly make the field of 65, after plummeting to the bottom of the conference standings.

“Six weeks ago we didn’t have a whole lot of people thinking we would be playing against anybody (in the NCAAs),” said coach Lorenzo Romar, who is going to the tournament for the fifth time in his eight seasons leading Washington.

“We don’t care where we go. We don’t care who we play. We’re ready to go play some basketball. … Our guys are excited, because our guys have been extremely focused for the last six or seven weeks — and now they are getting rewarded.”

A few hundred fans, some of the Washington’s women’s basketball team and other Huskies coaches were inside a conference room at Husky Stadium for the announcement of the bid Romar’s men clinched Saturday with the win over Cal. The Golden Bears (23-10) got the Pac-10’s other bid, as a No. 8 seed in the South region.

One fan hoping the NCAA would renew a recently discontinued rivalry held a sign behind the seated Huskies that read: “We want the Zags.” Groans and a boos filled the room when Gonzaga was announced early as heading to Buffalo.

The Huskies wanted no part of that trip. They are delighted to be going to the Bay Area. Washington had a chance to go across the state to the NCAA regional being played Friday and Sunday in Spokane, but that would have been a bit too much catering to an 11th seed.

“Beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to getting in the NCAA tournament,” Romar said.

Then he added with a wry smile of being placed in the Bay Area, “It doesn’t hurt us, that’s for sure. … Given the fact we are an 11th seed, we can’t complain at all with going to San Jose.”

All-Pac-10 forward and Washington leading scorer Quincy Pondexter loves the placing. He’s from Fresno, Calif., and he’s already spoken to Jon Brockman in hopes that last year’s Huskies star can make it to Thursday’s game. Brockman is now a member of the NBA’s Sacramento Kings.

Washington has met Marquette twice but not since 1978. The Huskies have lost both previous matchups.

The guard-oriented Golden Eagles, led by 6-foot-6 forward Lazar Hayward’s 18.1 points per game, lost to bigger Georgetown 80-57 in the Big East semifinals in New York last week. It was Marquette’s first double-digit loss this season.

Georgetown beat Washington on Dec. 12 in Anaheim, Calif. That was part of seven the Huskies losing seven consecutive games away from home and falling out of the national rankings midway through this uneven season. But Washington has won its last seven games away from Seattle.

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