SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- Lisa Bluder took the proper approach, sounding appreciative for Iowa making the NCAA tournament field and thanking the Hawkeyes' hosts.
She didn't need to state the obvious, that sixth-seeded Iowa got slammed with one of the toughest first-round assignments in the entire tournament: playing No. 11 seed Gonzaga on the Bulldogs home floor before a sold-out, partisan crowd.Not to mention Gonzaga has won 29 of its last 30 at home, the only loss coming to Stanford."We are a long ways from home. We don't have many fans here," Bluder said. "I think the selection committee got Idaho and Iowa mixed up."The home-state advantage the Bulldogs have experienced the last two years in the tournament, playing both times in Seattle and advancing to the regional semifinals a year ago, is nothing compared to what Gonzaga will get on Saturday afternoon when the Bulldogs face the Hawkeyes.The Bulldogs (28-4) have been sleeping in their own beds, even going to class on Friday morning before their final practice in preparation for their tournament opener. Those kinds of advantages weren't lost on Iowa, who got shipped to the West Coast and into less-than-friendly territory for the second straight year."This is much more difficult than playing on a neutral court," Bluder said. "I would rather be playing on a neutral court, absolutely."Gonzaga isn't your typical 11 seed. They're coming off a seventh straight West Coast Conference regular-season title and are back in the NCAAs for the third straight season and fourth in the last five. They also have arguably the best point guard in America in senior Courtney Vandersloot -- who averaged 18.6 points and 10.2 assists this season -- and an experienced lineup that has won at least one game in the last two tournaments.Gonzaga head coach Kelly Graves understands the pressure that's coming with the Bulldogs playing in their home gym. It's such a unique opportunity for Gonzaga that Graves' office window, which looks down into the arena, was covered with a black curtain on Friday."Nothing has been too unusual. That can be good and bad. With that comes the fact that we'll have a lot of people here tomorrow that are Gonzaga fans and with that comes maybe a little more pressure than it would be for an 11 seed to be going on the road somewhere, where it's 'hey, we might be the underdog,' or however you want to look at it as the 11 seed against the six. So there are advantages and disadvantages."One concern for Graves' group might be the lack of close games the Bulldogs experienced during the West Coast Conference season. Only once in conference did Gonzaga have a victory decided by 10 points or less. Their last loss came Dec. 29 against Notre Dame.But it was a similar situation last year, when Gonzaga knocked off North Carolina in the first round, then upset second-seeded Texas A&M 72-71 in the second round before falling to Xavier in the regional semifinals.About the only thing missing for the Bulldogs is having to stay in a hotel."Once we walk in here and see that our gym has changed a little bit it creates the NCAA environment, so it's not too bad," Vandersloot said.Playing in an uninviting environment is nothing new for the Hawkeyes. Last year, Iowa knocked off Rutgers in the first round before matching up against Stanford on the Cardinal home floor.The result was expected: a 96-67 loss to Stanford. But it was a valuable experience of playing on the home floor of an opponent in the NCAA tourney."What we did out there will help us a lot because we have almost everyone back from our team last year," said Iowa forward Jaime Printy, who averaged 20.1 points over the final seven games of the season.