NCAA Tourney has Washington State Flavor

NCAA Basketball
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The NCAA tournament will include an Evergreen State invasion of
Portland, Ore.

Washington is a No. 4 seed in the West region of the NCAA
tournament and will play 13th-seeded and Southeastern Conference
tournament champion Mississippi State in the first round on
Thursday in Portland. The NCAA announced on Sunday the Huskies'
first berth in the tournament in three years.

West Coast Conference champion Gonzaga is also going to be in
the Rose Garden, as the fourth seed in the South region. The
Bulldogs will play Akron, also on Thursday. It is the Zags' 11th
consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.

When the Huskies (25-8) learned they were a fourth seed and
didn't have to travel far to start the tournament, the players
cheered at a public event inside a conference room at Husky

The roars of the couple hundred fans standing around the players
subsided when it was then announced Washington was playing
Mississippi State.

"We were hoping we could start here, close to home. And we got
that wish," Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. "We are going to
play against a very good Mississippi State team."

When asked if he was surprised his Huskies, who won the Pac-10
regular-season championship for its first outright conference title
since 1953, did not get a No. 3 seed, Romar said, "Not as
surprised as I am that (Mississippi State is) a 13 seed."

Those Bulldogs (23-12) finished a surprise run through an SEC
that was perceived to be weak this season by beating Tennessee in
their conference tournament title game on Sunday.

They have a shot-blocking force in Jarvis Varnado. The 6-foot-9
junior led the nation last season with 157 blocks - then bettered
that with 165 blocks this season. Varnado is also MSU's leading
scorer at 13.1 points per game.

Mississippi State lost to Washington State, a team Washington
beat twice this season, in late November at the Legends Classic in
Newark, N.J. Varnado had just two points with four blocks in 25
minutes of that game.

If Washington can pass its initial test, the Huskies could run
into another tournament champion from a top conference on Saturday.
They would play the winner of Thursday's game between Purdue of the
Big Ten and Northern Iowa. That game would be for a chance to
advance to the regional semifinals in Glendale, Ariz., the
following week.

No. 1 seed Connecticut is also on Washington's side of the West
region bracket. Washington lost to then-top seeded UConn in
overtime in the regional semifinals in 2006, the last time UW was
in the tournament.

Romar is leading the Huskies to their fourth NCAA tournament
since the former UW player returned to coach them in 2002.
Washington had been to four NCAA tournaments in 17 years before
Romar arrived.

Gonzaga (26-5) has won 18 of its last 19 games - the only loss
being to Memphis, a No. 2 seed in the tournament, in Spokane.

Akron (23-12) won the Mid-American Conference tournament this
weekend to get an automatic NCAA berth.

If the Zags get by the Zips - nicknamed after zipper shoes
developed almost a century ago by a rubber company in Akron -
Gonzaga would meet the winner of Thursday's game between
fifth-seeded Illinois and No. 12 seed Western Kentucky.

Top-seeded North Carolina is also in Gonzaga's bracket, looming
as a potential opponent in the regional semifinals.

In Pullman, Washington State was waiting until later Sunday to
hear whether it had received a bid in the second-tier National
Invitation Tournament.

The Pac-10 getting six teams in the NCAA tournament, including
somewhat surprising 12-seed Arizona, helps the Cougars' chances for
the NIT.

"I think people missed the boat on our conference this year,"
Romar said. "The selection committee understood the Pac-10 is
better than people thought."