SPOKANE — Gonzaga women’s basketball coach Kelly Graves loved it when some 4,000 Bulldogs fans turned out last week in Las Vegas for the West Coast Conference title game.
“It’s like a home game,” Graves marveled.
But if there’s one thing Graves enjoys more than a home game in Las Vegas, it’s a home game in Spokane.
The Bulldogs, thanks to their status as one of the national leaders in women’s basketball attendance, open the NCAA tournament at home Saturday against 23rd-ranked Iowa State (1:15 p.m., ESPN2).
The unranked Bulldogs (27-5), riding a 15-game winning streak, are seeded 12th in the Spokane Region.
Gonzaga has never played the fifth-seeded Cyclones (23-8).
“They’re very similar to us in style and personnel,” Graves said.
Gonzaga has knocked off higher seeds three straight years en route to the Sweet 16.
The Bulldogs played their first two tournament games at home in 2011 and 2012.
“We’d rather be a lower seed and stay here and play in front of our home crowd than go anywhere else and be a higher seed,” WCC player of the year Taelor Karr said.
The Bulldogs have sold out the 6,000-seat McCarthey Athletic Center six times this season.
About 100 tickets were available late Monday for Saturday’s two games and a Monday contest matching the Gonzaga-Iowa State winner with Saturday’s nightcap survivor between fourth-seeded Georgia (25-6) and No. 13 seed Montana (24-7).
Monday’s winner advances to the Sweet 16 in Spokane Arena, March 30 and April 1.
A sellout crowd at Gonzaga doesn’t figure to intimidate the Cyclones. Iowa State averages 9,970 fans at home games, nearly twice as many as Gonzaga (5,678).
Karr said she “really wanted to go” to Iowa State out of high school.
The Kansas native wound up playing two years at Big 12 Conference rival Kansas State before spending the past two seasons at Gonzaga.
The Cyclones finished second to top-ranked Baylor in the regular season and the conference tournament. Gonzaga won the WCC regular-season and tournament titles.
The Bulldogs came in 28th in media voting for this week’s Associated Press Top 25, and 32nd in the coaches’ voting for the USA Today Top 25. Iowa State is 23rd in both polls.
The Cyclones lead the nation in free-throw shooting percentage at 80.2, and point guard Nikki Moody is third in assists with 7.3 per game.
Hallie Christofferson, part of a tall front line, leads a balanced offense with 15.6 points per game.
Georgia, 14th in the AP poll and 13th in the USA Today poll, finished third in the Southeastern Conference and lost in the semifinals of the conference tournament.
Unranked Montana, the Big Sky Conference regular-season and tournament champion, is led by conference MVP Katie Baker from nearby Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.