Gonzaga Ready For Another Postseason Run
March 1, 2001
By NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS
SPOKANE, Wash. - It's postseason tournament time again, and Gonzaga coach Mark Few's Bulldogs are ready to give another scare to big-name college basketball programs.
Despite making surprising runs in the last two NCAA tournaments, the team with the funny name hasn't gotten much attention this season.
Gonzaga made no appearances in The Associated Press Top 25, largely because five losses in eight early games indicated its days in the March limelight had passed.
Don't bet on it.
The Bulldogs (21-6) closed by winning 15 of 16 games, and they are the top seed heading into this weekend's West Coast Conference tournament.
"Anybody who watched the Arizona game saw we can certainly play and compete," Few said.
Gonzaga and Arizona - then ranked No. 1 - were tied in the closing minutes. Then Gonzaga's leading scorer, Casey Calvary, fouled out, and point guard Dan Dickau broke a finger, helping the Wildcats escape with the victory.
With Dickau out, the Bulldogs had a horrible December, losing at No. 6 Florida, at Boise State and at Wisconsin-Green Bay. An overtime loss at home to New Mexico on Jan. 2 left them with a 6-5 record.
Then they won a school-record 14 in a row - by an average of 24 points - before finally losing last Thursday at Santa Clara. They finished the regular season with a victory at San Diego that gave them 13 WCC wins for the first time.
"Of all the great things we've accomplished here, to still have something no other team has been able to do is pretty special," Few said.
Calvary, a 6-foot-8 forward, has emerged as one of the top players in the nation. Guards Dickau and Blake Stepp are playing with a confidence that recalls a couple of their predecessors: John Stockton and Matt Santangelo.
Indeed, it was the loss to graduation of Santangelo and guard Richie Frahm from last year's team that prompted many to downgrade Gonzaga's chances this season. The Bulldogs were picked to finish third in the WCC.
If there's one group not impressed with the Bulldogs, it's the voters on the weekly poll. Gonzaga rose steadily during its winning streak until it was perched just two spots shy of the poll. Then came the loss at Santa Clara, and the Bulldogs plummeted again.
"We don't have a big margin of error on that stuff," Few complained, even though the Bulldogs have won 20 or more games eight times in the past 10 seasons and are fixtures in postseason play.
The winning is paying other dividends. The Bulldogs' 4,000-seat arena has been a complete sellout for several years. Fund-raising is under way to build a new 6,000-seat home.
Gonzaga is 47-1 in the two seasons since Few replaced Dan Monson as coach. On Monday, he was named WCC coach of the year in a vote by league coaches.
Calvary was named WCC player of the year. Double-teamed all season, he averaged 19.6 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.3 blocks.
"He's held up to all the pressure and all the beatings he's taken," Few said. "He's been remarkably consistent all year."
Senior Mark Spink was WCC defender of the year, averaging eight points, five rebounds and one block.
Another surprise has been the play of Stepp, a 6-foot-4 freshman from Eugene, Ore. Stepp started all 27 games, averaged 10.2 points, and was named WCC freshman of the year.
Stepp turned down scholarship offers all over the West Coast to come to Gonzaga.
"He didn't get caught up in league affiliation, which is kind of refreshing," Few said. "He was trying to pick a successful program that can compete at a national level."
Dickau has also stepped forward. The junior sat out last season after
transferring from Washington. This season, he's averaging 17.8 points and
assists and scored 39 points against Santa Clara last week.
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