Zag Women Look to Open NCAA Tournament with a Win - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Zag Women Look to Open NCAA Tournament with a Win

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Haiden Palmer and the Gonzaga women's basketball team will look to defeat James Madison in the NCAA Tournament. Haiden Palmer and the Gonzaga women's basketball team will look to defeat James Madison in the NCAA Tournament.

by Gonzaga Athletics

SPOKANE, Wash. - One step closer to game day for the Gonzaga University women's basketball team. A day after leaving Spokane and heading south to College Station, Texas, the Bulldogs donned their practice gear and hit Reed Court for their official practice prior to their first round NCAA Tournament game with James Madison University.

The Zags - with their staple demeanor of 'light and loose' - met with the media before lacing up their shoes, stretching and heading onto Texas A&M University's home court; a first for all players and staff involved.

The ritual of a team picture on center court ensued but once the 90 minute clock started dwindling down, Gonzaga got right to business.

After practice finished an hour and a half later, the Bulldogs packed up, thanked all the Aggies for their hospitality and headed back to the hotel for the day.

Tomorrow the tourney begins. Zags vs. Dukes is set for 2:30 p.m. PT and can be seen on ESPN.

Below are excerpts from both Gonzaga’s and James Madison’s press conferences.

Kelly Graves, Gonzaga Head Coach

On preparation for the tournament: "First and foremost, you can see why we have such a good program with the poised seniors we have. This is not a new experience for us or them. They have been to the NCAA tournament each and every year and one of the things we preach is experience. That is important. We won’t prepare any differently than we did for the 33 games we have already played. We try to keep it the same. That’s how we work best. We don’t want them to feel at any time during the season that this game is bigger than that game. They understand that this is the NCAA tournament. In terms of how we prepare as a staff and as a team, it will be about the same."

On senior leadership: "It is 40 minutes. James Madison is the kind of team that is going to push us to our absolute limit. The team that plays the best tomorrow will win the game. I think the fact that they have been here, the moment is not going to be too big. They have been at the interview table before. Those kinds of things, if you haven’t experienced them, they might overwhelm you a little bit and maybe knock you off your rhythm or out of your normal comfort zone. This is something that our players expect to do. That’s why they come to Gonzaga. They want to be part of a winning program and a program that plays in postseason."

On similarities between Gonzaga and James Madison: "It is funny. Both Coach Brooks and I have talked about this. When we watch tape of each other, it looks like an intra-squad scrimmage because we play very similarly. We both value the basketball at the offensive end. We share the ball well. We run offense. At the defensive end, both of us are very sound and we are both good rebounding teams. We also have similar styles of play. The one thing that has really impressed me about James Madison is that you can obviously tell they are well coached. They have players who know how to play. For most teams, you can play off this player or that player and game plan accordingly. You can’t against James Madison. They will have five players on the floor that can all beat you in one way or another. They are very complete players. It is going to be quite a challenge. There is no doubt about that."

On best aspect of team: "I think our unselfishness. We play 12 players. We play a very deep bench. We don’t have very many egos in terms of ‘I need to be playing more’ or ‘I should get the ball more.’ It really has been a situation where everybody shares in it. On any given night, it could be somebody different. As a coach, that is a headache sometimes. You want to be able to count on certain players each and every night. That hasn’t been our M.O. this year. Individually, we have been a little bit inconsistent but as a team we have been very consistent. Someone always seems to step up. I like that about this team."

Haiden Palmer, Senior, Guard

On playing in the NCAA Tournament: "Every year we set our goals as a team. We’ve accomplished a couple of them. We won the conference in the regular season and the tournament. We always try to go as far as we can in the (NCAA) tournament. The Elite Eight is something we are looking forward to. We have to take it one game at a time. We have a great opponent to play on Sunday and we know it’s one-and-done."

On the fans in Texas: "We’ve been blessed to play in front of great fans there in Spokane. We know we have their support so we’ll keep that in mind. We’ve heard a lot of great things about the Texas fans and all the passion they have for women’s basketball. Either way, we have to play 40 minutes very well against a great opponent. We have a passionate team. We all love each other. I think it will still be a great atmosphere. We’re happy to be in the tournament like every other team."

On James Madison: "They have great athletes. They are all strong, quick and athletic. They play hard. They do a lot of things we do. It’s going to come down to whoever plays the better game that night. It’s a great challenge for us; we know we have to come to play."

Jazmine Redmon, Senior, Guard

On playing in Texas: "I’ve never be to Texas so I’m happy to be here. Our team is very fortunate to have made it to the NCAA tournament. We were very fortunate to play in front of great fans at home in Spokane. We’re really excited to play in front of these Texas fans though. We heard they love women’s basketball."

Sunny Greinacher, Junior, Forward

On being far from home to begin the NCAA tournament: "Texas is definitely different territory. Some of us haven’t been to Texas. It’s really exciting to be here and we’re really excited for the game tomorrow. It’s more that we’re looking forward to it than having anxiety or being nervous."

On James Madison: "They’re a really good team. We’ve talked about it a little bit and we got our scout yesterday so that we could individually prepare for it a little bit. They have lots of really solid players that don’t make a lot of mistakes It’s going to take the whole team to defend as a team and stop them."

Kenny Brooks, James Madison Head Coach

On the similarities between James Madison and Gonzaga: "There are so many different analogies. I feel like that commercial with Chris Paul where he’s separated with his twin at birth is perfect. Coach Graves has done a tremendous job with his program. They’re a program we’ve tried to emulate. We’ve had very similar success. They’ve taken the next step where they’ve won NCAA tournament games and advanced to the Sweet 16. He’s done a tremendous job. We look forward to the challenge. I was amazed by the similarities I saw while watching them on film. Our stats are very similar. I had a chance to speak with him earlier today. He said the same things about my team that I said about his team. I think it’s going to be a wide-open game. It’s going to be a lot of fun. I think if it were a series, it would come down to the last game. I’m looking forward to the challenges. They’re a well-coached basketball team. They share the basketball. I don’t think we’ll be able to take away one particular player because they’re so talented. I think this is one of the more intriguing matchups of the first round. We’re just excited to be a part of it."

On playing a team with NCAA tournament experience: "You can look at that a lot of different ways. They’ve had a lot of success. Their players have been on this stage before. We have a couple of kids with experience. This is Nikki’s (Newman) third NCAA tournament appearance and Kirby’s (Burkholder) second. I don’t want to compare the WNIT to the NCAA, but it really helped us. The further we advanced in the WNIT the last couple of years really helped us prepare for this. I think the competition factor is going to help us. This is a little bit of a grander stage. It’s what we long for and what we practice for. These kids are ready for it. This is the most different group I’ve ever coached. My teams in the past have been focused and ready to go. This group is a little different. They’re a little bit looser. I’ll come in the locker room and they’re dancing. I don’t want to shackle them because they come out and perform. I think the fact that we’re playing a team that’s a mirror image of us is going to help us. We’ve been able to get into our roots in practice. We’re excited to be able to play open, free basketball."

On the team receiving an 11 seed: "To be very honest, when they put up College Station and showed Gonzaga as the six seed, I just zoned out for a second. I didn’t think we would be an 11 seed. We’re excited to be back here. It’s something we felt like our program needed to continue to take those next steps. To play against a team with so much history on both the men’s and women’s side is a very big deal. We’re excited to play a team like that. There will be so many different challenges. There is a part of you that wishes that you would get a ‘BCS opponent’ in name. I think Gonzaga is a BCS program in talent and the way they operate. It’s hard for us to get those kind of games, to be pitted against another mid-major power. We would like to meet them a little later on or not at all because they’re so good. We welcome the challenge and look forward to it. It is Gonzaga. We know Gonzaga. Our kids know Gonzaga. It’s going to be a fun game for us and them. I think it will be a very competitive game for the NCAA first round."

On the scheduling: "You can throw out the seeds right now; these are two equally matched teams. I don’t know if I understand the selection committee. We’re just excited to be in the tournament. If we want to be who we want to be we have to play the best basketball teams. We played a tough schedule in UCLA, Virginia, Pittsburgh, St. John’s, Vanderbilt and UNC. A lot of people thought I was crazy, but I knew it would prepare us for opportunities like this. This group has the best chemistry of any team since I’ve been here. We’re looking forward to the opportunities."

Nikki Newman, James Madison, Redshirt Sophomore, Guard/Forward

On Gonzaga: "We have watched game film. Overall, they are very similar to the type of basketball we play. They are big up front in their guards and have big post players. They really like to get up and down the court. Defensively, they are very aggressive. That says a lot about us too, and the way we play. We are really looking forward to the game because it will be a fun one."

On preparation during the season for the tournament: "Our preseason conference games were very competitive. I think we proved ourselves a little bit in those. They are games we thought we could have won if we did something a little different here or there. We have come a really long way since that period as well. We’ve really bonded and gotten our team chemistry together. I think we are prepared for this."

Kirby Burkholder, James Madison, Senior, Guard

On being back at the NCAA tournament: "It is very exciting. We haven’t been here for two years. We have been in the WNIT. We definitely did not want to go back there again. This year, we feel like we have a special team. We can compete with teams in this tournament. We are very excited to be here. Hopefully we can make some noise during the tournament."

On preparation during the season for the tournament: "Our pre-conference schedule this year was very tough. We had opponents like UNC, Vanderbilt, St. John’s and UCLA. We played right with those teams. We beat a couple of them. We had a close game with UNC and a close game with Vanderbilt that we feel we could have easily won. Those games prepare you for these game."

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