SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- It was bad enough that Rutgers drew Gonzaga as its first opponent in the NCAA tournament and had to travel across the country to play the game on Gonzaga's home floor.
It got even worse when coach C. Vivian Stringer and her Rutgers team got a look at Gonzaga's McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday."It's kind of blue in there, isn't it?" Stringer said of the color scheme. "We're going to think we are in UConn again."Sixth-seeded Rutgers (22-9) plays 11th-seeded Gonzaga (26-5) on Saturday afternoon in Spokane.Gonzaga's up-tempo style and heavy reliance on passing also reminded Stringer of Big East rival Connecticut, which beat the Scarlet Knights twice this season."Look at how many games they win as a result of assists," Stringer said of Gonzaga. "You know they are playing together well as a team.""It's hard to stop a team's offense when they know each other inside and out," said guard April Sykes, who averages 13 points to lead Rutgers. "Watching Gonzaga, they are a team like that."The Zags also have a devoted fan base, as Connecticut does, that will pack the 6,000-seat area Saturday."We anticipate that everybody that can breathe is going to be packing it up and getting in there," Stringer said. "We anticipate a loud, boisterous and enthusiastic crowd."Stringer said she had a feeling her team would be sent to Spokane, and expressed no displeasure at having to play on Gonzaga's home floor."I looked at where the different sites were and considered which was the greatest distance from us," Stringer joked.But she liked getting her team away from the distractions of family and friends."I wasn't disappointed," said Stringer, who has an 11-2 record in NCAA opening games.Gonzaga coach Kelly Graves said playing at home is not automatically good."There is added pressure when you play at home," Graves said. "The expectations are they will play better in their home gym."That said, Graves believes the benefits of playing at home outweigh any disadvantages.Rutgers is making its 10th consecutive appearance in the tournament, and 14th under Stringer. They were ranked as high as No. 7 this season before a five-game losing streak knocked them down.Rutgers relies on a solid defense that limited Connecticut to 49 points even though they lost that Big East tournament game. They score an average of 60 points per game.Gonzaga averaged 75 points per game this season, eighth best in the nation. They earned their first at-large bid to the tournament after losing to BYU in the West Coast Conference tournament title game.The Bulldogs are led by Kayla Standish, who averages 15.8 points per game. Standish averaged 30 points in two NCAA tournament games at McCarthey last year, both Gonzaga victories.Standish expects Rutgers to play a lot of pressure defense."We've got to stay composed with that," Standish said. "We've got to take care of the ball."Graves said Rutgers presents several defensive schemes, including full-court and half-court traps."I'm not sure we can be ready for everything," Graves said. "We've got to play with our heads on a swivel."