Gonzaga has always been the underdog, the tiny school from Spokane out of the WCC that could never truly compete consistently with the blue bloods. The ‘Zags were a cute story, but they didn’t play anyone after the new year and were never given any true street cred.
But this season, all that changed when Mark Few’s team began the season No. 1 and ran the table all the way to its second Final Four appearance.
Gonzaga improved to 30-0 after its latest blaze of domination, this one coming against potential No. 2 overall pick Evan Mobley, and the Zags now stand just two victories away from becoming the first men’s team to pitch a perfect season since Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers pulled off the feat 45 years ago.
This one was basically over at the first media timeout, when Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs were yucking it up and smiling after jumping out to an 11-4 lead. Timme dominated the Mobley brothers, even busting out the “Michael Jordan Shrug” after one basket.
The most pressing questions in the game centered around the health of referee Bert Smith — who collapsed a little more than four minutes into the game and left the court about 10 minutes later, sitting up and alert on a gurney.
“The biggest thing I bristle at is that people think it’s NCAA title or bust,” Few told me recently. “We know we’re going to be judged on that at the end of the day, but we’re not Tom Brady or LeBron [James] or their teams.”
“We’ve only made one championship game,” added Few, whose team lost to North Carolina in the title game in 2017. “I don’t think we’re quite worthy of those expectations.”
But Gonzaga has earned the hype this season. The perception of the program has changed. Now they are getting elite-level recruits like Suggs, and also beating just about everyone for heralded transfers. This season they breezed past Kansas in the season-opener, took care of West Virginia, had no issues with Iowa and then pummeled Virginia in the non-conference.
Gonzaga dominated just about everyone in the regular season, winning games by an average of more than 23 points per game.
And for those who worried about the jump in competition from the WCC to the NCAA Tournament, worry no more. Gonzaga beat Oklahoma by 16, Creighton by 18 and made USC look like WCC bottom-feeder Portland on Tuesday night in an 85-66 victory.
“I bristle at the fact that people say we don’t get competition,” Few said.
This team has it all.
An ultra-talented freshman point guard in Suggs, who doesn’t hunt for his shots and plays the right way despite some feeling as though he was in the conversation for the No. 1 overall pick; A hard-playing big man in Timme, who isn’t the most athletic, but finds a way to dominate in the paint with an array of moves around the basket; One of the elite shooters/leaders in the country in Corey Kispert; A glue guy who does a little bit of everything in Frenchman Joel Ayayi; And a pass-first veteran point guard in Andrew Nembhard.
But it’s not just the collection of talent, it’s the buy-in and unselfishness of the group.
Few has done the unthinkable since taking over the program after Dan Monson left for Minnesota in 1999. He has led the ‘Zags to an NCAA tourney berth each of his 22 seasons at the helm, but there are still skeptics who are unable to give him the credit he deserves — unless they cut down the nets on the final night of the season.
Well, they are two more wins away from perfection and shutting up all the naysayers.