Gonzaga's Mark Few has been maligned over the years for winning big in the regular season only to go home early during March Madness. And with one of his most talented teams in recent memory— the second-seeded Bulldogs went 34-2 on the season — another postseason exit would have stoked the skeptics.
This time though, Few flipped the script.
Gonzaga cruised to a 74-62 victory over UCLA, riding the strong shoulders of center Przemek Karnowski in a fast-paced match.
Karnowski scored 18 points with nine rebounds, guard Byron Wesley had 14 of his own and the Bulldogs set up a date with Duke, who beat Utah in the later game.
Now Gonzaga will face its most difficult challenge yet, and with the spotlight at its hottest. This is the time of year when legends are made and, if teams fail to meet expectations, scapegoats as well.
Which is all well and good to worry about — later.
For now, Few is shaking the postseason curse.
This Gonzaga squad is a true threat to win it all for one simple reason; buckets.
The Bulldogs rank 10th in the nation, averaging 79 points per game, but what really shines is the way they score. No team in the NCAA was able to match their shooting efficiency, a blistering 52 percent mark from the field this season.
Gonzaga actually had an off-night in that regard against UCLA, shooting a lowly 15.8 percent from three while taking 19 deep shots. What does that mean?
Well, simply put, they had to make their layups and mid-range attempts efficient.
Which they did, in impressive fashion.
The Bulldogs converted on half of their shots within the arc, showing off an array of interior passing and drives to the hoop that sealed the victory against the overmatched Bruins.
And if they can continue that type of unselfish play, they'll continue to be able to survive rough shooting nights like this one — no matter who their opponent is.
Hoping for another first
Mark Few has dragged Gonzaga to relevancy ever since becoming coach in 1999. The Bulldogs have gone 438-102 (.811 win percentage) in that time, while making the tournament every year.
Yet not once have they reached the Final Four.
In fact, they hadn't reached the Elite Eight until Friday.
That's stunning, considering the 16 consecutive seasons they've made it to the big dance. And it's cast questions as to whether Few, clearly an excellent regular-season coach, can ever make the big next step.
If Gonzaga can match up against Duke's bigs, it will have a chance. The Bulldogs have a grand center in his own right, in Karnowski, and he will need to bring all his skill to bruise with phenom freshman Jahlil Okafor.
And perhaps, just maybe, one of college basketball's brightest minds can bring home another first that's eluded him.
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