Gonzaga-Valparaiso Associated Press Preview

March 17, 2004

  • NCAA Tournament Press Conference Quotes

    GAME: No. 15 Valparaiso (18-12) vs. No. 2 Gonzaga (27-2).
    REGIONAL: St. Louis, First Round.
    TIME: Thursday, 10:00 p.m. EST.
    SITE: KeyArena in Seattle, Washington.

    Gonzaga has finally received the respect it feels it deserves from the NCAA selection committee.

    Now, the Bulldogs must prove they are worthy of their seeding as they open the NCAA tournament against Valparaiso.

    The No. 2 seed is the highest ever for the small West Coast Conference school that has developed a reputation as a popular underdog in the NCAA tournament.

    "We're very humbled by the seed," coach Mark Few said. "I was happy people finally viewed us the way we view ourselves."

    Gonzaga's reputation as a lovable underdog began in 1999, when the Bulldogs reached the regional finals. They proved it wasn't a fluke by advancing past the first round in four of the past five years, making it to the round of 16 in 2000 and 2001.

    Last year, Gonzaga narrowly missed upsetting top-seeded Arizona, taking the Wildcats to double overtime before falling 96-95 in the second round.

    Gonzaga has left behind its mid-major underdog status, replacing it with a talented roster capable of reaching the Final Four in San Antonio.

    The Bulldogs were ranked third in the final AP Top 25 poll, their highest ranking ever.

    Gonzaga went 14-0 in West Coast Conference play and won the conference tournament. The Zags have won 20 straight games, with their only losses coming against top-ranked Stanford and No. 5 St. Joseph's - both No. 1 seeds in the tournament.

    Gonzaga's championship hopes rest with the playmaking talents of WCC player of the year Blake Stepp and the interior presence of Ronny Turiaf and Cory Violette.

    Stepp averaged 14.7 points and team-high 6.7 assists. The 6-foot-4 point guard also made 40.7 percent (77-for-189) of his 3-point attempts.

    The 6-foot-10 Turiaf leads Gonzaga with 15.6 points and 1.5 blocks per game. Violette, a 6-foot-8 center, is pulling down 8.0 rebounds and shooting 56.8 percent from the field.

    The Bulldogs will be playing the Crusaders for the first time.

    Valparaiso started the season 3-9, won 10 of the next 12 games, lost to Duke and won the next five, clinching the Mid-Continent Conference regular-season and tournament championships.

    It will be the Crusaders' seventh NCAA appearance in the past nine years under coach Homer Drew, who came out of a year's retirement after his successor and son, Scott Drew, was named coach at Baylor in August.

    "We're just pleased to be still playing basketball this late in March," said reserve guard Greg Tonagel, who played in 13 games and averaged 6.1 points and 2.8 assists.

    Valparaiso's only NCAA victories were in 1998, when the Crusaders beat Mississippi on a 3-pointer at the buzzer by Drew's younger son, Bryce, and beat Florida State in overtime before a regional semifinal loss to Rhode Island.

    Sophomore forward Dan Oppland leads Valparaiso with 15.9 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

    Valparaiso's backcourt must hit shots against Gonzaga for the Crusaders to have a chance at an upset. Guards Roberto Nieves and Ali Berdiel shot just 36.8 percent and 40.3 percent, respectively, from the field this season.

    Valparaiso - F Joaquim Gomes (13.1 ppg and 8.8 rpg), F Oumar Stylla (4.0 ppg and 2.4 rpg), F Oppland (15.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg), G Nieves (6.6 ppg and 3.2 rpg), G Berdiel (11.5 ppg and 6.1 apg).
    Gonzaga - F Turiaf (15.6 ppg and 6.5 rpg), F Erroll Knight (6.0 ppg and 3.1 rpg), C Violette (14.1 ppg and 8.0 rpg), G Stepp (14.7 ppg and 6.7 apg), G Kyle Bankhead (5.7 ppg and 2.8 apg).

    HOW THEY GOT HERE: Valparaiso - Automatic bid, Mid-Continent Conference champion. Gonzaga - Automatic bid, West Coast Conference champion.

    ALL-TIME TOURNAMENT RECORD: Valparaiso - 2-6, six years. Gonzaga - 8-6, six years.



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