SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — The West Region of the NCAA Tournament has a decidedly Western feel for a change.
Led by West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga and Pac-12 tournament winner Arizona, the top two teams in the West Region are actually from the Western part of the United States for the first time in 26 years.
“I think that’s smart to be honest with you,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
The selection committee didn’t have to look far to find the top two seeds for the regional that will be decided in San Jose in two weeks. The Bulldogs (32-1) spent much of the year near the top of the polls, led by WCC player of the year Nigel Williams-Goss. The Wildcats (30-4) rolled to the Pac-12 title after the return of star Allonzo Trier from a 19-game suspension.
“We said before the selection show we didn’t care what seed we were,” Williams-Goss said. “We wanted to be out West and that was the most important thing to us.”
This marks the first time since 1991 when UNLV and Arizona got the honors that the top two seeds in the West Region came from the West.
Gonzaga will open against South Dakota State (18-16) and Arizona will play its first-round game against North Dakota (22-9), both in Salt Lake City.
Northwestern (23-11) got its first bid in school history. The eighth-seeded Wildcats will open play against ninth-seeded Vanderbilt (19-15) in Salt Lake City with the winner facing the Gonzaga-South Dakota State winner.
Here are some other things to watch from the West Region:
WEST COAST DROUGHT: The placement of Gonzaga and Arizona as the top two teams in the region increases the chances that the long Final Four drought for Western teams could also come to an end this season. The last team from the West to make it to the national semifinals was UCLA, which made three consecutive trips from 2006-08. No Western team has won it since Arizona beat Kentucky for the title 20 years ago.
FIRST TIME DANCERS: After not getting picked for the first 77 NCAA Tournaments, Northwestern had to wait until the final region was revealed on the selection show to get its first bid. Coach Chris Collins pumped his fists as his players celebrated and a roar came from the crowd of about 2,000 people at Welsh-Ryan Arena.
“When I came here four years ago, it was a belief in a day like today,” Collins said.
BAD KARMA: Gonzaga got rewarded with its second No. 1 seed ever and will start in the same place the Bulldogs did the other time they got it in 2013. Gonzaga now hopes not to have a repeat and end its tournament on the opening weekend. The Bulldogs lost that year in the round of 32 by eventual Final Four team Wichita State.
“It’s a different year,” center Przemek Karnowski said. “I was as a freshman going there. I didn’t even have a chance to check in to the Wichita State game so I was cheering on the team but I didn’t have a big impact on that game.”
BIGGEST LOSER: Vanderbilt made a bit of history with its bid. The Commodores have the most losses for an at-large team and got in with some margin for error as a ninth seed. Three wins over Florida and a non-conference schedule that included six losses to eventual tournament teams proved to be enough for the Commodores.
REST OF THE MATCHUPS: An all-Florida first-round matchup highlights the rest of the region with third-seeded Florida State (25-8) taking on No. 14 seed Florida Gulf Coast (26-7) in Orlando, Florida. The winner of that game will take on the winner of the matchup between sixth-seeded Maryland (24-8) and No. 11 Xavier (21-13).
The other matchups are No. 7 Saint Mary’s (28-4) against 10th-seeded Virginia Commonwealth (26-8) with the winner facing the winner of Arizona’s first-round game. The Gaels lost three times to Gonzaga, including in the WCC title game.
In Buffalo, New York, No. 4 West Virginia (26-8) takes on No. 13 Bucknell (26-8) and No. 5 Notre Dame (25-9) facing No. 12 Princeton (23-6) with the winners playing in the second round.
AP Sports Writer Tim Booth in Seattle contributed to this report.
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