Gonzaga looks likely to keep winning, takes aim at No. 1
ABS-CBN Sports on Jan 28, 2017 11:43 AM
Gonzaga guard Nigel Williams-Goss (5) shoots while defended by Pepperdine forward Chris Reyes (14) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Spokane, Wash., Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)
NICHOLAS K. GERANIOS, Associated Press
SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Five of the eight players in No. 3 Gonzaga's main rotation have never lost in a Bulldogs uniform, and indications are it could be a long while before they ever do.
With a favorable road ahead, the lone undefeated team in the AP Top 25 appears likely to stay that way and could claim the top spot in the poll next Monday after losses this week by No. 1 Villanova and No. 2 Kansas.
Not only that, this Gonzaga team appears deeper than the 2013 squad that earned the Zags their first and only No. 1 ranking.
"This group has done an excellent job of focusing on the process," coach Mark Few said after Gonzaga demolished San Diego 79-43 on Thursday night for its 21st consecutive victory, the longest streak in the nation. "We are not focusing on stuff we can't control."
One thing they can't control is poll voters. Even if Gonzaga (21-0, 9-0 West Coast) wins at bottom-dwelling Pepperdine on Saturday night, voters might decide another team is more worthy of the top spot.
Don't tell that to the Gonzaga fans, who erupted in chants of "Number One! Number One!" in the closing seconds of the win over San Diego.
Gonzaga burst onto the national scene with a magical run to the Elite Eight in 1999, and the clock has never struck midnight for this Cinderella program. They have made 18 consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament, and are almost certain to go again this year as they run away from their rivals in the West Coast Conference.
This year's team features veterans Przemek Karnowski and Josh Perkins. But the Zags also start three transfer students from Power Five programs in Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams and Jordan Mathews. Freshman posts Zach Collins and Killian Tillie provide quality minutes off the bench.
Williams-Goss, Mathews, Williams, Collins and Tillie have yet to lose in a Gonzaga uniform.
Collins, a 7-foot forward from Las Vegas who is one of the top recruits in program history, said a top ranking would be special.
"It would be amazing to be No. 1 in the nation," Collins said. "Everybody's goal is to be the best team in the country."
Still, this squad is also aware that there's plenty of season left.
"We have to get better each week," said Williams-Goss, a junior who transferred from Washington. "Our end game is in March to play our best basketball."
March has been something of a mixed bag for the Zags.
While the team has made every NCAA Tournament this century, and reached the Elite Eight in 2015, there is some angst over the Zags' failure to reach a Final Four.
The 2013 team that featured Kelly Olynyk, now with the Boston Celtics, and Elias Harris reached No. 1 near the end of the season and earned a No. 1 seed in the tournament. But they were bounced in the round of 32 by Wichita State.
This year's team is deeper, with eight key contributors. The Zags have seven players who average at least 8 points per game. They are limiting opponents to 63 points per game, while scoring nearly 85.
Few, who has never missed an NCAA Tournament as head coach, points to strong defensive efforts all season as a key.
"We haven't taken a night off," Few said of his defense after Gonzaga limited San Diego to 32 percent shooting. "That stood out."
The Zags have victories this season over No. 7 Arizona, No. 21 Saint Mary's and No. 25 Florida, plus Iowa State, Akron and Tennessee. They are ninth in the latest RPI.
But the West Coast Conference is not having a stellar year, and that tends to take some of the shine off Gonzaga's record.
The Zags are beating conference foes by an average of 25 points per game, and have led wire-to-wire in their past four victories. Gonzaga has trailed for just 25 minutes total in nine conference games so far.
That leads critics to grumble their record wouldn't be as gaudy in a tougher league.
Gonzaga has nine games remaining, with the toughest figuring to be a rematch at Saint Mary's on Feb. 11. This is a down year for BYU, whom the Bulldogs must face twice.
So Gonzaga has a very good chance to finish the regular season undefeated, as Kentucky did in 2015 and Wichita State did in 2014. Few isn't going there yet, however.
"I'm not looking at March," he said.
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