Gonzaga has won too many games in the NCAA Tournament the last three seasons – six to be exact – to put too much emphasis on one game in December.
But that doesn’t mean the Bulldogs (7-2) aren’t pointing toward Monday’s matchup with 13th ranked Georgia (8-1) in Las Vegas.
“It’s hugely important,” GU coach Kelly Graves said. “It’s a chance for us to get that signature win.”
Make that signature regular season win, something that has eluded the Bulldogs in November and December but not in March, where they have wins over Xavier, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Iowa, UCLA and Louisville.
“We haven’t had a ton of success in the non-league, I don’t know (why),” Graves said. “Personally I think it’s just important to play them, so when we do see them later on. We’ve just got to keep trying.”
He pointed to first time the Zags went to Vegas for this tournament two years ago. They got blitzed by No. 6 Baylor 70-49 and fell about 20 points behind No. 13 A&M in the first half before they charged back to lose 80-76.
After second half run fueled a streak that continued three games into the NCAA and included wins over UNC and A&M before Xavier eliminated GU in the Sweet 16.
After playing Bulldogs on Monday Gonzaga faces Dayton (5-3) on Wednesday. The Flyers are a highly-regarded from the Atlantic 10. The schedule was originally GU vs. Illinois (4-5) and Dayton vs. Georgia but Graves wanted to play the highest ranked team and Dayton wanted the nearby Big 10 team. All coaches agree to the switch.
“Recently fans might not know us but a coach wouldn’t want to play us because they know we’re pretty good,” Graves said. “Now, because of our last couple of years, people know we’re pretty good, so if a team happened to lose to us it’s not bad. Before if you lose to a Gonzaga they’d ask, ‘What happened?’ ”
Closer to home
There will be a ranked team in the area on Monday when No. 14 Louisville (8-2) visits Washington State (6-4).
The Cardinals were looking to bring the Schimmel sisters back to their family and friends. Sophomore Shoni and freshman Jude first played in Hermiston and finished in Portland.
“Scheduling is tough on the West Coast,” Cougar coach June Daugherty said. “In Ohio there are 11 Division I schools within three hours of Ohio State. They’re not used to flying out here for one or two teams.”
She said it helped to partner with another school. When Hofstra opened the season here, the New York school played Gonzaga and Eastern. Louisville is at Portland on Saturday.
The Cougars will play in Louisville next year.
UC Riverside (1-7) is at Idaho (3-6) on Thursday, then the Highlanders are at Gonzaga on Saturday. … Boise State (6-4) is at Eastern Washington (5-5) on Saturday, then the Eagles go to Pacific on Sunday.