Ranked and ready
Gonzaga is used to being the team every team wants to beat. Every West Coast Conference opponent regards playing Gonzaga as its Super Bowl.
Being No. 1 nationally is no different. The Bulldogs know everybody will play their hardest against them. Southern proved that Thursday and almost pulled the unprecedented upset by a No. 16 seed.
“It’s a challenge,” guard Kevin Pangos said. “It’s nothing new to us. Southern came out with great effort. It’s a new day and we play Wichita State and we’re going to play tough.”
WSU coach Gregg Marshall doesn’t expect the Bulldogs to struggle after Thursday’s close call.
“I saw a team that played a very, very good Southern team,” he said. “I think that’s what people are overlooking. There are no bad teams in this tournament. Gonzaga will bounce back. They had their scare.”
Gonzaga is an NCAA regular and enjoys a tremendous reputation. However, it hasn’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since 1999, when coach Mark Few was an assistant. Few guided the Bulldogs to the Sweet 16 in 2000, 2001, 2006 and 2009.
“Our expectation is to win the next game,” Pangos said. “The expectation is not for us to make the Elite Eight. I think that’s for everyone else to think of. Our expectation is on Wichita State, and that’s really it.”
Gonzaga finished No. 1 in both polls and is the first school from a non-BCS conference to finish No. 1 in the AP poll since Massachusetts in 1996.
“I try to avoid all the talk about being No. 1 and having that pressure on our backs,” forward Elias Harris said. “We take it game by game and don’t look ahead, because that’s poison.”
Keep on running
WSU guard Tekele Cotton won’t get a break this weekend. It doesn’t sound like he wants one.
Cotton played the lead role in holding Pittsburgh guard Tray Woodall to two points on 1-of-12 shooting Thursday. Gonzaga will test Cotton’s defense and stamina with Pangos and Gary Bell, both excellent outside shooters.
“I look forward to being that guy to chase around (top scorers),” Cotton said. “So I look forward to chasing around Kevin Pangos. I enjoy it.”
Gonzaga coach Mark Few compares Cotton to Bell as a player who takes pride in defense.
“He’s got the athleticism and the body and the size that he can do that to a lot of people,” Few said. “A tough, tough guy. That’s kind of what Wichita State has — tough aggressive, confident players.”
WSU limited Pittsburgh to 1-of-17 shooting from three-point range. The Shockers can’t expect Gonzaga to miss so frequently.
“We have to make them work for everything,” Marshall said. “We’re not going to shut them out, but if Tekele Cotton and Ron Baker can have the same effect they on the guards from Pitt (Thursday), it would go a long way to help us winning the game.”
On the move
Pittsburgh’s pick and roll produced some baskets for center Steven Adams in Thursday’s game. Gonzaga possesses an even more mobile and skilled big man in center Kelly Olynyk.
He scores on similar plays and is expert at finding the right angles to the basket.
“They screen and roll a lot and look for that pocket bounce pass for their bigs,” WSU guard Ron Baker said. “I’m not sure their bigs can shoot as good as Creighton can, but they’re physical. They like to drive it when they get that pocket bounce pass in the mid-post.”
Olynyk and forward Elias Harris both thrive at the foul line. Olynyk shoots 78.2 percent and Harris 76.3. Both have more attempts than any Shocker.
Wichita State went 2-2 in the regular season against teams in the NCAA field, beating VCU and going 1-2 against Creighton.
Gonzaga went 8-2 against the field, including wins over Kansas State, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State. It lost to Illinois and Butler.
Paging L.D. Swanson
Wichita State and Gonzaga played once before, and neither program is recognizable.
The Shockers defeated Gonzaga 54-53 on Dec. 29, 1994 in aging Levitt Arena under coach Scott Thompson. WSU was on its way to a 13-14 record, its sixth straight losing season. Gonzaga, coached by Dan Fitzgerald, went 21-9 and won the West Coast Conference Tournament to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth. It lost to Maryland in the first round.
If Shocker fans remember the Cessna Classic game, they remember it because guard L.D. Swanson made a three-pointer at the buzzer to win in overtime. In the next game, Swanson’s coast-to-coast buzzer beater knocked off The Citadel 64-62 in overtime.
— Paul Suellentrop