SPOKANE--Just before 7 a.m. on Wednesday the chants of "We are G-U" echoed through the first of four buses waiting to drive the Gonzaga men's basketball team, cheerleaders, band members and support staff to the airport for their charter flight to Buffalo for the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Some of the cheerleaders showed up around 6 a.m. to get their stuff on the bus, while the first couple of players appeared around 6:30 a.m. The last bus with the players on it pulled away about 7:15 a.m.
The early departure was in marked contrast to years past where anywhere from 500 to a few dozen fans would show up at the McCarthey Athletic Center to wish the team well.
But just as the number of fans showing up has changed over the years, so has the method of travel for Gonzaga going to the NCAA Tournament.
Gonzaga spokesman Dale Goodwin told KREM 2 News that when the team first made the tournament the first several years the school had to scramble at the last second to book seats on available commercial flights on Selection Sunday, which often meant the team would fly on different planes than the support staff and cheerleaders. They would often have to make several stops and change planes along the way to destinations like Atlanta and Memphis.
Now the team flies on a charter plane that specifically is tasked with flying the men's and women's basketball teams around the country for road trips. The charter flights are funded by alumni donations and Gonzaga's travel fund.
The team is expected to land in Buffalo late this afternoon and hold a closed practice at a local gym.
Gonzaga will play Florida State at 4:10 p.m. Friday at the HSBC Center in Buffalo. You can watch that game only on KREM 2.