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Outside noise won’t change Gonzaga’s tune at WCC tournament and beyond

Gonzaga guard Silas Melson (0) reacts during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against BYU on Feb. 2 in Provo, Utah. (Jeff Swinger / Associated Press)
Gonzaga guard Silas Melson (0) reacts during the first half of the team’s NCAA college basketball game against BYU on Feb. 2 in Provo, Utah. (Jeff Swinger / Associated Press)

LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga isn’t ranked No. 1 anymore, but that hasn’t stopped the chatter surrounding one of the college basketball’s most talked about programs.

One minute the Zags are called deep, balanced and experienced, clearly the best team in coach Mark Few’s tenure and a national championship contender.

The next minute, particularly in the days following Saturday’s loss to BYU, they’re described as overrated, unchallenged by the middling WCC and March heartbreak awaits.

Few hears some of the theories and opinions, and he has a few of his own. One, people seem to have a lot of spare time. Two, he’s not going to overreact to one loss after 29 consecutive victories.

“Just a lot of people spouting a lot of different opinions,” he said. “From our point of view, we’re all about the process and the process has led us to 29 wins. We kind of deviated from the process (Saturday).”

Few said the goals this week have been plenty of rest for the players and addressing issues – turnovers, rebounding, ball-screen coverage, free-throw shooting – that surfaced against BYU.

Those shortcomings “drove our DER (defensive efficiency rating) way up and our OER (offensive) way down,” he said. “That’s what leads to winning and losing. When we take care of those things, winning handles itself.”

Gonzaga has routinely taken care of business in the WCC tournament at the Orleans Arena. The fourth-ranked and top-seeded Zags, who open Saturday against Pepperdine or Pacific, have won the last four titles and advanced to the championship game 19 straight years.

Gonzaga’s primary challengers remain Saint Mary’s, which put together its best regular-season record despite two double-digit losses to GU, and BYU, which finished a roller-coaster regular season by stunning the Zags.

“Obviously, we’re a lot more confident now than we were maybe a week or even two weeks ago, especially after the first time we played them,” BYU center Eric Mika told Campus Insiders. “They’re a heck of a team and it takes a lot to beat them.”

The Zags stressed they’re not looking ahead, but they know who they’d like to see if they advance to the title game.

“We would love to see BYU because they didn’t get our best,” freshman center Zach Collins said. “But again, we’re going to be prepared for whoever we play in the tournament.”

There’s work to be done before Saturday’s quarterfinal contest, and much of it centers on correcting mistakes from the BYU game.

“One of the things coaches have harped on is, we’ve shown what we can do in 29 games,” Collins said. “We just have to get back to doing the little things and our identity.”

And that is?

“We play unselfish, the ball is never sticky on offense and defensively we all work in tandem,” he said. “We’re also a tough team. That gets overlooked sometimes, but we go at each other in practice.

“We weren’t the same team against BYU. We have to get back to that toughness.”


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