Gonzaga Looking For Deeper NCAA Run

March 14, 2006

STATS Writer

Gonzaga is in the same position it was last year entering the NCAA tournament. This time around, it hopes for a better outcome.

The Bulldogs (27-3), who have the longest winning streak in the nation at 18 games, are again a No. 3 seed in the tournament as they face 14th-seeded Xavier (21-10) in the first round Thursday at Salt Lake City.

Adam Morrison has been Gonzaga's catalyst all season, and he had 23 points to help the Bulldogs beat Loyola Marymount and win their third straight West Coast Conference tournament championship.

The title completed Gonzaga's third consecutive sweep of the conference regular season and tournament championships, but that success hasn't translated well into the NCAA tournament.

After three straight appearances in the round of 16 from 1999-01, the Bulldogs have failed to make it past the first weekend in each of the past four seasons. They lost 71-69 to Texas Tech in the second round of last year's tournament when they were also seeded third.

"It's something we really, really would love to do because we just want to keep playing," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of the team's desire to go deep into the tournament. "You just want to play your best in this tournament. If you play your best you have no regrets."

Morrison could become the key to getting the Bulldogs out of the Oakland Regional.

The junior leads the nation in scoring with 28.4 points a game this season, and is trying to become the second Bulldog to accomplish the feat since Frank Burgess averaged 32.4 points in 1961. His play has also earned him a spot on the United States national team for the world championships in Japan in August.

The Bulldogs' first step in the tournament comes against an opponent they haven't faced since 1960, when they lost 87-82 to the Musketeers.

Few, though, said his team would be up to speed on Xavier.

"Our guys will see them plenty by the time they get to Salt Lake," he said, referring to watching tapes of some of the Musketeers' games. "Our guys will be well-prepared."

Xavier qualified for the NCAAs after winning the Atlantic 10 tournament with a 62-61 victory over St. Joseph's. It became the first team in Division I to pull off an improbable feat for the second time - winning four games in four days for a tournament title. The Musketeers also did it in 2004 for their last NCAA appearance.

Prior to the run, Xavier had lost eight of 13 games.

"For a coach, this is the ultimate fulfillment," Sean Miller said. "You go through some adversity - in our case, a lot of adversity - and all of the doubts. It can galvanize you. It can take you to higher places, if it doesn't break you. That's what happened to us."

Junior forward Justin Cage has helped Xavier turn its season around, and was named the Atlantic 10 tournament's most outstanding player. Cage stepped up his play after senior forward Brian Thornton was lost for the season with an ankle injury on Feb. 11, scoring 14.0 points in 10 games.

Justin Doellman has also helped pick up the slack, averaging 12.7 points and 6.8 rebounds since Thornton's injury.

"It's been a roller coaster," said Doellman, who has played the last three weeks with two broken bones in his shooting hand. "It's really brought us together, and we got on a roll."

The winner of this game will play Saturday against either Indiana or San Diego State.



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