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Gonzaga hopes there’s more magic in Orlando

Gonzaga players including David Stockton (11) and Kevin Pangos (4) hoist the trophy after defeating Davidson 81-67 to win the championship game in the Old Spice Classic in Kissimmee, Fla., on Nov. 25, 2012. (Roberto Gonzalez / Associated Press)
Gonzaga players including David Stockton (11) and Kevin Pangos (4) hoist the trophy after defeating Davidson 81-67 to win the championship game in the Old Spice Classic in Kissimmee, Fla., on Nov. 25, 2012. (Roberto Gonzalez / Associated Press)

Orlando has been good to Gonzaga.

A neutral-court victory over a ranked foe in the championship game. Blowout wins over coaching giants such as Maryland’s Gary Williams and Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger.

Two trips to the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, 6-0 record, two tournament titles.

“We’ve had good weeks down there,” said coach Mark Few, whose team returns to Orlando for an opening-round matchup against Quinnipiac on Thursday in the AdvoCare Invitational. “Hopefully this time will be the same.”

Orlando is where redshirt junior forward Kelly Olynyk, returning from a suspension due to a violation of the student honor code, started putting together an All-American season.

Orlando is where a young freshman center named Przemek Karnowski chipped in eight points in a 25-point rout over Oklahoma.

Those 2008 and 2012 titles in what was known as the Old Spice Classic sent GU soaring up the rankings and established the foundation for two of its most successful seasons.

No. 9 Gonzaga was one of four ranked teams in the 2008 event. No. 5 Michigan State was the favorite – until falling to Maryland in its opener.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga thumped Oklahoma State 83-71. Micah Downs had 17 points and Jeremy Pargo added 15. Josh Heytvelt made 9 of 10 shots and Austin Daye added 17 points in an 81-59 semifinal rout over the Terrapins.

Gonzaga handled No. 12 Tennessee 83-74 in the title game. Pargo had 10 points and seven assists and fellow guards Steven Gray and Matt Bouldin combined for 36 points. MVP Pargo was joined on the all-tournament team by Heytvelt.

Gonzaga climbed to No. 5 in the ensuing poll. The Zags went on to win 28 games before losing in the Sweet 16 to eventual national champion North Carolina 98-77.

Six teams in the 2008 field reached the NCAA tournament. Georgetown, ranked 21st entering the Old Spice, and Wichita State didn’t qualify for the NCAAs. Maryland, Siena and Oklahoma State won NCAA openers. Michigan State lost to North Carolina in the title game.

Gonzaga dominated the 2012 Old Spice, which didn’t have as many marquee names as the 2008 field.

Olynyk, who sat out GU’s first three games, made his debut as a starter in a 57-49 win over Clemson. Olynyk scored 13 points in 24 minutes. Elias Harris had 13 points and Sam Dower, now coming off the bench, added 11.

Harris had 18 points and Olynyk added eight points and eight boards in a 72-47 rout over Oklahoma in the semis.

Kevin Pangos made four 3-pointers in the second half and tournament MVP Harris scored 24 points in an 81-67 victory over Davidson in the championship game.

“I practiced against him the whole time so I know what he’s capable of and he really showed it,” Harris said of Olynyk’s impact. “He can play way better than that, too, so I’m looking forward to seeing more out of him.”

The Zags moved up five spots in the poll. They eventually won 32 games, reached No. 1 in the nation for the first time and earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Gonzaga lost in the round of 32 to ninth-seeded Wichita State, which advanced to the Final Four before falling to eventual national champion Louisville.


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