Gonzaga Is A Mouthful Come Tournament Time
March 7, 2000
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - OK, basketball fans. Repeat slowly: "Gone-ZAG-uh."
For the second straight year, Gonzaga will be befuddling announcers and perhaps again tormenting much bigger schools in the NCAA tournament. Last season the Zags came within one win of the Final Four, and gave the nation a pronunciation lesson.
Casey Calvary scored 28 points as Gonzaga captured an automatic NCAA tournament berth by defeating Pepperdine 69-65 in overtime late Monday night in the West Coast Conference championship game.
Gonzaga became the darling of last year's NCAA tournament by defeating Minnesota, Stanford and Florida before losing by five points to eventual champion Connecticut in a regional final.
The Zags spent much of their time during that tournament trying to educate all comers that their school name is not pronounced "Gon-ZAH-guh."
"People will never quite figure out how to pronounce it, and that's fine with us," Calvary said. "We play better when we're the underdog."
Ryan Floyd added 14 points and Richie Frahm had seven of his 12 points in overtime as Gonzaga (24-8) won the conference tournament for the second straight season.
"This will be the first night that I'll actually sleep for eight hours. When the buzzer sounded I felt a huge barbell lifted off my shoulders that's been there since Oct. 15," said Mark Few, Gonzaga's first-year coach. "The expectations on this team were so out of whack."
Gonzaga scored the first eight points of overtime, capping that run with a 3-pointer by Frahm. Pepperdine's Tezale Archie had a chance to tie the game with four seconds remaining, but missed a 3-pointer.
Craig Lewis had 17 points for Pepperdine (24-8), which won the WCC's regular-season title and hopes for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Archie added 12 points for the Waves.
Gonzaga, a private Jesuit school of 4,800 students in Spokane, Wash., was famous mostly for alums Bing Crosby and John Stockton until last year. Its greatest sporting achievement had been sharing the 1950 NCAA boxing title with Idaho.
But last March basketball fans throughout the nation struggled to pronounce the name of an obscure 16th century priest. St. Aloysius Gonzaga, the patron saint of youth, died in 1591 while caring for victims of the plague in Rome.
The Zags, also known as the Bulldogs, are led by Calvary, a 6-foot-8 forward whose tip-in lifted Gonzaga to a 73-72 win over Florida in the round of 16 last year. Matt Santangelo, who during the WCC tournament broke Stockton's school record for assists in a season, is the point guard.
Gonzaga fans chanted "Stan-ford, Stan-ford" Monday night, putting more highly ranked teams on notice about the Zags' history of upsets.
But Gonzaga will have to play in the tournament without guard Mike Nilson, voted the conference's top defensive player this season. Nilson ruptured his right Achilles' tendon Saturday night, and his teammates played Monday with Nilson's No. 25 written on their sneakers.
After an exhausting WCC tournament finale and the school's second straight conference title, Few was not yet ready to look ahead.
"This game was exactly like our season," he said. "We started well, we hit some adversity. But true to character, when their backs were pressed firmly against the wall, they showed their true colors. Repeating is every bit as tough, actually tougher, and every bit as sweet."
By ROB GLOSTER
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