Gonzaga's 18th straight NCAA trip comes as 11th seed
Kyle Wiltjer did not allow himself to wonder what Sunday would have been like if Gonzaga wasn't already guaranteed of an 18th straight NCAA Tournament bid.
''I don't want to think about what it would have felt like,'' Wiltjer said on Sunday night. ''We would have been very nervous. We're excited we're in the tournament.''
Gonzaga was able to extend the fourth-longest current streak of NCAA appearances when the Bulldogs won the West Coast Conference tournament, eliminating any worry or debate about their inclusion in the NCAA field. And it was clear from the decisions of the NCAA committee that the Bulldogs may have seen their streak end if they had lost the WCC tourney final.
Gonzaga (26-7) earned a No. 11 seed in the Midwest Region and will face No. 6 seed Seton Hall on Thursday night in Denver. It's the lowest seed for Gonzaga since 2011, when the Bulldogs were also a No. 11 and upset another Big East team in Denver, knocking off St. John's before losing to BYU.
Gonzaga's fate likely would have been one of the big questions of Sunday if not for beating Saint Mary's in the WCC title game. St. Mary's (27-5) did not make the tournament and Gonzaga was given a double-digit seed for the fifth time during its NCAA streak. The Bulldogs have won at least one game in four of the previous five NCAAs as a double-digit seed.
''In some ways it's going to be kind of nice to be a double-digit seed,'' Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. ''We just haven't done it in a while and it will be kind of fun to have to play that role and I hope our guys embrace it and really take advantage of it.''
Gonzaga's been in a different type of spotlight all season, from the preseason expectations where the Bulldogs were thought to be a top-15 program coming off an Elite Eight appearance, to the behind-the-scenes series filmed by HBO that chronicled their season. Except the HBO show nearly became about how the most dominant non-power conference program of the past two decades saw their NCAA streak come to an end.
''It was not really a distraction,'' Wiltjer said. ''They just finished up so it's nice to be over and not have to worry about it.''
The Bulldogs struggled to adjust after losing center Przemek Karnowski for the season to a back injury in December. Gonzaga has only one victory over another team in the NCAA Tournament - a November win over Connecticut in the Bahamas. Their guard play was inconsistent and the Bulldogs were swept by St. Mary's in the regular season.
But the Bulldogs came through with three crucial victories in the WCC tournament to ensure their name was there again when the brackets were released.
''There is no fear. We're very confident moving forward and we're playing good basketball right now,'' Wiltjer said.