Top-ranked Gonzaga fields mature team this season
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) If there is a single word that sums up No. 1 Gonzaga this season, it is maturity.
Coach Mark Few and his players talk often about the poise of this year’s Zags, who have blown out many of their opponents and are on pace to finish the regular season undefeated.
Gonzaga (24-0, 12-0 West Coast Conference) starts three transfer students from power conference programs, along with veterans Przemek Karnowski and Josh Perkins.
All those players have plenty of college basketball experience, and it shows.
”There are a lot of leaders in this group,” Perkins said. ”We get everybody’s best shot. This group is ready for it.”
Guard Nigel Williams-Goss, who leads a balanced Gonzaga attack that averages 85 points per game, said the Zags are mature enough to avoid being swallowed up by hype.
”We don’t feel any pressure,” Williams-Goss said. ”Our motto is: `Get better every week.”’
The Zags have a big game this weekend at No. 20 Saint Mary’s, which is shaping up as the biggest remaining obstacle to an undefeated regular season. The last team to do that was Kentucky in 2015.
Gonzaga is also just one win away from its 10th consecutive 25-win season, a milestone they could reach at Loyola Marymount on Thursday.
The players realized early that this team was special, Williams-Goss said.
”We had this belief in the preseason,” Williams-Goss said. ”If we took the defensive end seriously, we knew the sky was the limit for us.”
Opponents have averaged only 61.7 points per game against Gonzaga this season, and the Zags have barely trailed in games. In their 24 games, the Bulldogs have trailed for just 63+ of the 960 total minutes played, roughly 6.6 percent of the time.
Their narrowest victory was a 73-71 escape against Iowa State, which was ranked No. 21 at the time. They also had single-digit wins over No. 17 Florida and No. 9 Arizona.
The only other Gonzaga team to reach No. 1 was the 2013 squad led by Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris. They were top-ranked for the final three weeks of the season. But that team lost during the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, upset by a Wichita State team that would go undefeated in the next regular season.
This team wants to go farther, because the only poll that really matters is the one that comes out at the end of the season, Williams-Goss said.
This year’s Zags are deeper than the 2013 squad. Six players average more than nine points per game. When Williams-Goss sat out the recent Santa Clara game with a sprained ankle, veteran guard Silas Melson started and the Zags roared to a 35-point victory.
”It was good for our depth to stand up and show,” Few said.
The Zags are the only remaining undefeated team in Division I, and their 24-game winning streak is tied for the longest in program history.
”Being undefeated is obviously a huge accomplishment,” said Williams-Goss, a transfer from Washington who has yet to lose in a Gonzaga uniform. ”But we’ve still got a lot of areas to grow in.”
Only two Zags remain from the 2013 team. They are center Przemek Karnowski and little-used reserve Rem Bakamus, both seniors. Karnowski this season became the program’s all-time leader in victories, going 124-13 (.905) as a Bulldog.
Few had praise for his team.
”I am happy with how they have approached this year,” Few said. ”They’ve stayed hungry and they’ve stayed humble.”
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