If it's March, it's tourney time for Gonzaga

March 20, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah – Birthdays are so yesterday. Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s 13-year-old son has another way to mark the passing of a year: Selection Sunday.

The Bulldogs are making their 15th consecutive appearance in the NCAA tournament this season, all he has ever known. A streak exceeded only by Duke, Kansas and Michigan State. His dad understands how special it is.  

“He likes it better than his own birthday. That’s not real, you know?” Few said Wednesday. “You think how many people are disappointed. That, to me, is incredible, what our guys have been able to do all these years.”

Few said he barely remembers Gonzaga’s Cinderella-in-combat-boot days, when the Bulldogs took the NCAA tournament by storm in the late 1990s, winning seven tournament games as 10th seed or worse and teaching the nation a lesson in pronunciation – it is Gon-ZAG-uh.

Gonzaga (31-2) is now Goliath, the No. 1 seed in the NCAA West regional here and the No. 1 ranked team in both major polls as it prepares to face Southern U. (23-9) in a first-round game here Thursday.

For all the success early in their 15-year run, the Bulldogs have not done particularly well as an overdog, winning only four NCAA games as a No. 2 or No. 3 seed from 2004-06 and going 5-6 in the tournament since. Not that it seems to be bothers them.

Nor does the national criticism that Miami is more deserving of a No. 1 tournament seed despite the strong play of All-American center Kelly Olynyk and forward Elias Harris and a schedule that includes victories over NCAA tournament teams Oklahoma State, Kansas State, Davidson, St. Mary’s and Oklahoma.

“We feel like we are ready to prove ourselves," sophomore point guard Kevin Pangos said. "We believe in our team and our abilities and we’re confident going in. We believe we belong. There is no pressure,” sophomore point guard Kevin Pangos said.

The Bulldogs also can count on a home-court – and home statue – advantage, not only because Salt Lake City is the closest venue to their Spokane, Wash., home. A statue of John Stockton, the best player in school history, sits outside Energy Solutions Arena, a tribute to his Hall of Fame NBA career with the Utah Jazz. To get there, just turn left on John Stockton Drive.

Stockton’s son, David, is a backup to Pangos, and his father lends a lot of time to the program. He even coached Few’s son on an AAU team.

“The best point guard of all time,” Pangos said.

“He’s one of those guys you want to listen to like he’s going to give you the secret to life because he is a wealth of knowledge,” Olynyk said.

Olynyk, a 7-foot junior who redshirted last year to improve his game, leads the Bulldogs in scoring at 17.5 points a game and averages 7.2 rebounds and 1.2 blocked shots. He was the West Coast Conference player of the year and is as finalist for the Wooden Award. Harris averages 14.9 points and 7.4 rebounds, and Pangos averages 11.5 points and 3.2 assists.

Southern is led by guard Derrick Beltran, who averages 16.4 points a game.

“Our coach told us 20 years ago, Southern was in the top 25 and nobody knew who Gonzaga was," Beltran said. "Tables are turned now, but we tried to bring Southern back to where it used to be."