NORTH Vancouver big man Robert Sacré's final crack at the Big Dance will begin Thursday in Pittsburgh as the fifth-year senior leads his Gonzaga Bulldogs into the NCAA March Madness basketball tournament as the No. 7 seed in the East Region.
The Bulldogs will take on the No. 10-seeded West Virginia Mountaineers at Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Centre with the winner moving on to face the winner of No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 15 Loyola (Md.) in the second round.
Sacré started every game for the Bulldogs this season, registering averages of 11.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game while shooting 50.5 per cent from the field and 76.4 per cent from the free throw line. For his strong play inside the seven-footer was named the West Coast Conference defensive player of the year.
The Bulldogs made the WCC championship game but lost 78-74 in overtime in the final to St. Mary's, meaning they'd need an at-large bid to get into the March Madness tournament. On Sunday the selections were made and, with a 25-6 record for the season, the Bulldogs easily made the 68-team field.
"I am just happy to be in the tournament," Sacré said after the announcement was made. "Let's get this thing rolling. It was a nerve-wracking feeling leaving it in someone else's hands."
Gonzaga is in for a tough game on Thursday. The Mountaineers finished eighth in the loaded Big East conference and lost in the first round of the Big East tournament. They've lost eight of their last 12 games but they will have a strong home court advantage for the game against Gonzaga - the West Virginia campus is located just 120 kilometres from Pittsburgh. Sacré said the Bulldogs aren't going to worry about the location of their first-round matchup.
"We're just in the mentality that we're going to go for it and just play basketball," he said. "These are just great opportunities. This is what college basketball is all about. The excitement and the level of play increases tenfold."
When the season is over Sacré will turn his attention to his pro basketball aspirations - he is regarded as a potential second-round pick in the 2012 NBA draft.