NCAA BK

Column: Zags show they deserve the No. 1 ranking

Share This Story

   
 

LAS VEGAS (AP)

(Eds: With AP Photos.)By TIM DAHLBERGAP Sports Columnist

Their reign as No. 1 is little more than a week old, yet it seems a comfortable fit for the little school that can. Gonzaga plays like a team without a big target on its uniform, something that should serve the Zags well as they head into the NCAA tournament in search of something a bit more tangible than their ranking as the best team in the country.

Whether they really are the best in the land may be debatable, though the way Gonzaga finished off its last bit of pre-tournament work Monday night should win some converts. Behind the ever-efficient Kelly Olynyk and some tremendous defense, the Bulldogs - the school's official nickname - easily took care of business in beating rival Saint Mary's 65-51 to win the West Coast Conference title.

For the Zags it was simple. One game to retain the No. 1 ranking. One game to get a No. 1 seed.

But now is when it really starts to get interesting. And now is when it really counts.

The next time Gonzaga takes the court all of college basketball will be watching. How the Zags respond will determine how long this magical ride lasts.

''This team is very grounded,'' coach Mark Few said. ''It's a team that enjoys playing together. It's not one that spends a lot of time on the noise outside the program.''

That showed Monday in this gambling city, where the Zags and Saint Mary's seem to meet every year for their conference's title. If Gonzaga is a small school from Washington state, Saint Mary's is an even smaller from California. Get them together, though, and both usually play big.

Few drew up a plan to stop Matthew Dellavedova, the leading scorer for the Gaels, often employing the 7-foot Olynyk on the double team to slow him down. It worked better than imagined, with Dellavedova held to just one basket in eight shots, and Saint Mary's going scoreless for long periods.

The game was pretty much over early in the second half, but Gonzaga kept the defensive pressure on until the final buzzer sounded and all that was left to do was get the trophy and cut down the nets. Olynyk - who was so confused about his game that he didn't even play last year - finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds, but it was his teammate, Elias Harris from Germany, who was the tournament MVP.

If the celebration afterward was a bit muted - some confetti from the rafters and a few hugs - it's because the real work lies ahead. The knock on Gonzaga, which will be going to the tournament for the 15th year on a row, is that the Zags have had trouble advancing. But Few took pains to point out that his team has had the misfortune to run into some hot teams most years.

That may happen again, even with a No. 1 seed that should help get the Zags out of the opening round. Winning 31 games is an accomplishment, but the NCAA tournament is a treacherous place.

''You have to be short-minded in a sense that it's not the end of the year for us,'' Olynyk said. ''We still want to come out and play our game in the tournament.''

In a year that no team seemed to be No. 1 for very long, that game could carry the Zags a long way. Yes, Gonzaga played its toughest opponents early and then had the fortune to finish the season in a conference they dominated. But if you haven't seen this team play, they're the real thing.

They're deep, they defend hard, and they're big inside. The guards aren't bad either, and even John Stockton's son, David, had a few moments to shine as a reserve in the championship final.

Olynyk is a guard who grew into a center, while Harris is a force offensively inside and the two seem to know where the other is at all times on the court. Kevin Pangos runs everything from his guard position and any number of guys seem to come off the bench and add something extra.

Most importantly, though, they seem to enjoy playing together. And they don't appear to be worried about any expectations other than their own.

''We've been playing great basketball all year,'' Harris said. ''We believe in ourselves, we believe in our coaches, we believe in our teammates. So we just try to go out there and play our game. We don't think about that stuff because whatever you're ranked - 1st, 2nd or last - you just go and play your game and it'll all take care of itself.''

It did on this night, when the spotlight of being No. 1 shined brightly on Gonzaga. The Zags could have stumbled against a 27-5 team that hadn't lost to anyone but Gonzaga since December, but they were coldly efficient in wrapping up their last bit of unfinished business before the tournament.

The Zags will formally get their No. 1 seeding Sunday and find out where they begin their quest for a national championship that suddenly doesn't seem so farfetched. They're good enough to be in Atlanta, good enough to win it all.

The wise guys in Vegas sure aren't betting against them.

----

Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg

Tagged: Gonzaga, Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk

Related Stories

Member Comments

Please note by clicking on "Post comment" you acknowledge that you have read the Terms of Use and the comment you are posting is in compliance with such terms. Be Polite. Inappropriate posts may be removed by the moderator.

powered by



NCAA BK Videos

Cuonzo Martin new head coach at Cal Posted: Apr 16, 2014
Cuonzo Martin is introduced as Cal's new head coach.

Francesa: Calipari doesn't tell NBA the truth Posted: Apr 14, 2014
John Calipari says that he will lie to the NBA when asked about players.

Francesa: Kentucky players 'attacked' all year Posted: Apr 14, 2014
John Calipari talks about how he used negative press to turn his team into a cha...

Fox Sports Store

    itemName itemURL imageSrc price itemDescription
    Nike Florida Gators #1 Replica Elite Basketball Jersey - Black http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Florida_Gators/browse/featuredproduct/885881/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_885000/ff_885881_xl.jpg&w=100 74.95 Nike Florida Gators #1 Replica Elite Basketball Jersey - Black
    Nike Georgetown Hoyas #22 Hyper Elite Road Performance Jersey - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Georgetown_Hoyas/browse/featuredproduct/1030243/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1030000/ff_1030243_xl.jpg&w=100 119.95 Nike Georgetown Hoyas #22 Hyper Elite Road Performance Jersey - Navy Blue
    Nike Duke Blue Devils #5 Tourney Takeover Replica T-Shirt - Duke Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Duke_Blue_Devils/browse/featuredproduct/1032710/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1032000/ff_1032710_xl.jpg&w=100 27.95 Nike Duke Blue Devils #5 Tourney Takeover Replica T-Shirt - Duke Blue
    Nike Oregon Ducks X-Ray Ball T-Shirt - Green http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Oregon_Ducks/browse/featuredproduct/1052002/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1052000/ff_1052002_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Oregon Ducks X-Ray Ball T-Shirt - Green
    Nike Ohio State Buckeyes Road Warrior Tri-blend T-Shirt - Scarlet http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Ohio_State_Buckeyes/browse/featuredproduct/1052645/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1052000/ff_1052645_xl.jpg&w=100 29.95 Nike Ohio State Buckeyes Road Warrior Tri-blend T-Shirt - Scarlet
    Indiana Hoosiers 2013 NCAA Men\'s Basketball Road to March Madness T-Shirt - Crimson http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Indiana_Hoosiers/browse/featuredproduct/1124528/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1124000/ff_1124528_xl.jpg&w=100 19.95 Indiana Hoosiers 2013 NCAA Men\'s Basketball Road to March Madness T-Shirt - Cri..
    adidas Louisville Cardinals 2013 March Madness #10 Premier Swingman Jersey - Red http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Louisville_Cardinals/browse/featuredproduct/1127200/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1127000/ff_1127200_xl.jpg&w=100 89.95 adidas Louisville Cardinals 2013 March Madness #10 Premier Swingman Jersey - Red
    adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2013 March Madness #45 Premier Swingman Jersey - White http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Notre_Dame_Fighting_Irish/browse/featuredproduct/1127218/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1127000/ff_1127218_xl.jpg&w=100 89.95 adidas Notre Dame Fighting Irish 2013 March Madness #45 Premier Swingman Jersey ..
    Nike Gonzaga Bulldogs March Madness Bracketville T-Shirt - Navy Blue http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Gonzaga_Bulldogs/browse/featuredproduct/1155821/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1155000/ff_1155821_xl.jpg&w=100 24.95 Nike Gonzaga Bulldogs March Madness Bracketville T-Shirt - Navy Blue
    Top of the World Miami Hurricanes 2013 NCAA ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Champions Adjustable Hat – Green http://shop.foxsports.com/FOX_Miami_Hurricanes/browse/featuredproduct/1177723/source/foxsports_prsp_ca http://images.footballfanatics.com/FFImage/thumb.aspx?i=/productImages/_1177000/ff_1177723_xl.jpg&w=100 25.95 Top of the World Miami Hurricanes 2013 NCAA ACC Men’s Basketball Tournament Cham..