SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Guard Kevin Pangos was slowed last season by toe and ankle ailments, but still managed to be named to the all-West Coast Conference team.
This year, the senior is healthy and anxious to lead deep and talented No. 13 Gonzaga to its 17th consecutive NCAA tournament appearance.
”I took a lot of time off in the summer,” said Pangos, who was diagnosed last year with turf toe, which made it extremely painful to make his quick moves. ”My feet are feeling great and it feels good to run properly again.”
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Gonzaga has won 80 percent of its games in 15 seasons under coach Mark Few. But hopes are higher than normal for this team, which boasts several returning starters and some intriguing newcomers.
”We’ve got a lot of talent, but we’ve got to put it all together now,” said Pangos.
Few’s expectations revolve around getting each athlete to play at his full potential, and getting the most out of the team.
”If we can do that, we have enough in the stable that we’ll have a phenomenal year,” Few said.
Few noted that last year’s team, which went 29-7 and lost in the third round of the NCAA tournament, ”tapped out at their full potential.” The biggest losses from that team are forward Sam Dower and guard David Stockton.
Two years ago, a Gonzaga team led by Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris reached No. 1 in the nation and earned a top seed in the NCAA tournament. But that team was knocked out of the tournament in the third round, continuing a string of early exits for the Zags.
”We don’t want to say that if we are not No. 1, then the season is a failure,” Pangos said. ”Everyone on the team is competitive and we want to win every single game we play.”
”The only pressure we feel is the pressure we put on ourselves,” Pangos added.
The talent this year starts in the backcourt. Pangos averaged 14 points and 3.6 assists per game last year. Gary Bell Jr., also slowed by a broken hand last year, averaged 11 points and is back at full strength.
”We’ve been close since our freshman year,” Pangos said. `I couldn’t ask for a better on-court partner.”
Pangos and Bell have shown amazing consistency in their careers, Few said.
Also back is center Przemek Karnowski, who averaged 10 points and 7 rebounds last year. Role players Kyle Dranginis and Angel Nunez also return.
Few is leery of any hype.
”We really haven’t had a bad team in 16 years … so it will be way, way more difficult for this to be the best team we’ve ever had,” Few said. ”It’s certainly possible, but the bar has been set high.”
Other things to know about Gonzaga, which is picked to win the West Coast Conference again this season:
NEWCOMERS: Kyle Wiltjer, a transfer from Kentucky who had to sit out last year, averaged 10 points for Kentucky in the 2012-13 season. ”He can really shoot the ball out to 25 feet,” Few said. ”He changed his body, got in shape and became adept at scoring around the basket. He’s really going to help us.” Byron Wesley, the leading scorer for Southern California last year, averaging 17.8 points and 6.4 rebounds, transferred to Gonzaga, where he is immediately eligible to play. Wesley ”gives us what we have not had the last few years: a big, physical, athletic wing with a mid-range game,” Few said.
THE SCHEDULE: Few likes a tough non-conference schedule, and this year is no exception. The Zags play No. 22 SMU, No. 2 Arizona, UCLA, Washington State, Georgia and Memphis this season.
THE NUMBERS: In addition to all the NCAA appearances, the Zags under Few have won 13 regular-season WCC titles and 12 WCC tournament titles. They have been in the WCC tournament title game 17 consecutive seasons.
FEW WINS: Few has the highest winning percentage of any active Division I coach at 80.1 percent (403-100). Roy Williams of North Carolina is second at 79.2 percent.
TOURNAMENT RUNS: Gonzaga has not advanced beyond the first weekend of the NCAA tournament since 2009, when it went to the round of 16. The past four seasons they have won their first tournament game but lost the second.