Bulldogs Travel To Arizona For NCAA First Round
March 15, 2005
GAME: No. 14 Winthrop (27-5) vs. No. 3 Gonzaga (25-4).
REGIONAL: Albuquerque, first round.
TIME: Thursday, 7:25 p.m. EST.
SITE: McKale Center; Tucson, Ariz.
Gonzaga failed miserably last season as a high seed in the NCAA tournament. The chance for redemption has arrived.
Eager to atone for an early round upset loss last season, the third-seeded Bulldogs face the team with the nation's longest winning streak when they meet Winthrop at the McKale Center on Thursday.
Gonzaga used to be the team that seemingly came out of nowhere to beat high-profile schools in the NCAA tournament, but now the Bulldogs face some of the same pressures as those major teams they used to knock off.
As a No. 10 seed in 1999, Gonzaga beat three teams from power conferences before losing to Connecticut. As a 10th seed again the following season, the Bulldogs advanced to the round of 16 before falling to Purdue. Gonzaga earned no higher than a No. 6 seed the next three years before it was a second seed last season with a senior-led team.
The Bulldogs, however, didn't fare well in the role of favorite, beating Valparaiso before a stunning loss to Nevada.
"There was a feeling last year that the expectations were real high," sophomore guard Adam Morrison said. "This year, it feels like there are no expectations. Overall, as a team, we can play a whole lot more loose."
Gonzaga coach Mark Few knows his team can no longer sneak up on opponents.
"The days of innocence are gone. We're a marked team, a marked program, and there's really no going back," he said. "That being said, the youth and the approach that this team takes sheds the whole expectation aspect of it, maybe puts us back into the role that we played before, in a way."
Both teams enter this matchup on extended win streaks.
While Gonzaga has won 12 straight after winning the West Coast Conference tournament title for the sixth time in seven years, Winthrop owns the nation's longest streak at 18 games. The Eagles, back in the NCAAs after a two-year absence, won the Big South regular season and tournament titles.
"This isn't a first-time deal for them," Few said. "They've been in the NCAAs. They have a reputation for playing guys tough. They'll welcome this opportunity."
There's no disputing that the Bulldogs are worthy of a No. 3 seed. They have wins this season over Washington, a No. 1 seed, Oklahoma State, a No. 2 seed, and Georgia Tech, a No. 5 seed. Gonzaga's losses were to top-ranked Illinois and to Saint Mary's, which got an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Their other two defeats were at Missouri and San Francisco, which both got NIT bids.
Winthrop's biggest task Thursday will be finding a way to contain the 6-foot-8 Morrison and 6-10 senior center Ronny Turiaf.
Morrison was third in the WCC in scoring (18.5) and Turiaf was the league's leading rebounder (9.3). Despite struggling with ankle injuries, Turiaf was named the WCC player of the year.
The Eagles extended their superb season by beating Charleston Southern in the Big South title game, earning their fifth NCAA tourney invite in the past seven years.
Morrison and Turiaf could present matchup problems for the Eagles, who play three guards and have only one starter, 6-10 center Craig Bradshaw, taller than 6-6. Winthrop limited opponents to 59.0 points per game this season, but figure to have a difficult time holding the Bulldogs to that low a number.
This is the first meeting between the schools.
PROBABLE STARTERS: Winthrop - F Phillip Williams (7.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg), F Bradshaw (8.0 ppg, 3.4 rpg), G James Shuler (12.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg), G Torrell Martin (12.8 ppg, 4.5 rpg), G Chris Gaynor (6.5 ppg, 4.5 rpg). Gonzaga - F Morrison (18.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg), F J.P. Batista (12.5 ppg, 6.2 rpg), F Turiaf (16.1 ppg, 9.3 rpg), G Derek Raivio (13.5 ppg, 4.9 apg), G Erroll Knight (6.6 ppg, 4.6 rpg).
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Winthrop - Automatic bid, Big South tournament champion. Gonzaga - Automatic bid, West Coast Conference tournament champion.
ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Winthrop - 0-4, 4 years. Gonzaga - 9-7, 7 years.
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