It's Three In A Row For Gonzaga

March 6, 2001

By JOHN K. WILEY
Associated Press Writer

SPOKANE, Wash. - Break out the dog-eared "Go Zags" signs.

For the third consecutive year, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are in the NCAA tournament, with an unprecedented third West Coast Conference tournament title and victories in all but one of their last 19 games.

"This is so sweet because everyone expected us to drop off," Casey Calvary, the only current Bulldogs player who started on both the other NCAA teams, said after Monday night's 80-77 win over Santa Clara. "But we're back again."

A large crowd of fans greeted the team at the Spokane International Airport on Tuesday afternoon, and all three network television stations cut from regular programming to broadcast the arrival.

"They're the greatest fans in America, I say," said freshman guard Blake Stepp, who scored 21 points Monday night.

Calvary, a Wooden Award finalist and conference MVP, and Mark Spink, the conference defensive player of the year, are the team's only seniors.

The Bulldogs (24-6) were led by a pair of guards playing their first years in Gonzaga uniforms: junior transfer Dan Dickau and freshman Stepp.

Dickau, who spent December on the bench with a broken left index finger, returned in mid-January to key the Bulldogs' 13-1 regular season conference run. Stepp was named the WCC freshman of the year.

"It's sweet, maybe even sweeter the second time around," second-year Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "There is supreme satisfaction of a mission accomplished."

Dickau scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half Monday and was named tournament MVP. He was 6-of-8 from the free-throw line in the last 1:36.

Gonzaga fell a win short of the Final Four during its surprising run in 1999, then came back last year to reach the regional semifinals.

Santa Clara made 10 3-pointers in the second half to come back from a 13-point deficit, including one by Kyle Bailey to pull the Broncos to 78-77 with 24.9 seconds left.

But Gonzaga gave fouls to prevent Santa Clara shots and, after a timeout, Jamie Holmes lifted an airball as time ran out, sending the Zags into a familiar celebration.

Stepp added 21 points for the Bulldogs, leading a 22-3 run with three 3-pointers hat gave Gonzaga a 38-20 lead with three minutes before the half.

Brian Jones scored 21 for Santa Clara (20-12) and Steve Ross had 20.

It was the second time in the tournament that Gonzaga came back from an early deficit to win, this time an 11-point gap just six minutes in. In Sunday night's semifinal victory over San Diego, Gonzaga was down by 14 in the first half before going on a 16-0 run.

"They are a very good team that can give you problems in the tournament," Santa Clara coach Dick Davey said. "They create a lot of problems that other teams don't."

Gonzaga led 40-35 at halftime and opened a 48-35 lead, its biggest of the game, after Dickau made two shots, including a 3-pointer, and Stepp hit three free throws.

Santa Clara scored the next 11 points, a run capped by 3-pointers by Ross and Bailey, to tie it at 48, but could never get the lead back.

 

 

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