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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga not on bubble, but lots of road work left to do

Gonzaga head coach Mark Few, reacting to a foul call against San Francisco last Saturday, is more focused the Zags’ next game than he is on bracketology. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few, reacting to a foul call against San Francisco last Saturday, is more focused the Zags’ next game than he is on bracketology. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

The phrase “on the bubble” has returned to college basketball’s everyday dialogue.

It’s the time of year pundits start yakking about quality wins, bad losses, eye tests, schedule strengths and RPIs while assessing the credentials of potential NCAA tournament teams.

There was no Gonzaga media availability this week but coach Mark Few said on his television show he’s focused on Thursday’s game against Loyola Marymount and not studying RPI and bracketology.

At the moment, Gonzaga (17-5, 9-2 WCC) is a 10, 11 or 12 seed in most bracket projections. For what it’s worth, Gonzaga and WCC-leading Saint Mary’s (18-2, 9-1) are listed with “work left to do” in an ESPN.com article.

“Among the reasons the Gaels don’t have a quality win to their name?” ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan wrote. “Gonzaga’s unusual sabbatical from being Gonzaga.”

Gonzaga, which has a 17-year streak of NCAA appearances, can take the direct path by winning the WCC tournament in Las Vegas or essentially remove the guesswork with a spotless finish to the regular season. The Zags have won 12 of the last 17 WCC tournaments.

The 2011 Zags were in a similar situation. They entered the WCC tournament with a 22-9 record and affixed to the bubble. Second-seeded GU thumped No.1 Saint Mary’s 75-63 in the title game.

Gonzaga, No. 72 in ESPN’s RPI, hasn’t had a so-called bad loss. The Zags’ worst RPI loss was against No. 66 BYU. The Zags’ best wins are against No. 50 Washington, No. 55 UConn and No. 98 Pepperdine. They are 3-4 against teams currently in ESPN.com’s latest NCAA bracket with at least one more game against Saint Mary’s.

The Zags are on the road for six of their last eight regular-season games. The best chance to bolster their resume is against SMU on Feb. 13 in Dallas. The 12th-ranked Mustangs (19-2) have dropped two of their last three. Other opportunities await against visiting Saint Mary’s (46 RPI) on Feb. 20 and the regular-season finale against BYU in Provo on Feb. 27.

“We know now we can play 40 minutes,” forward Domantas Sabonis said after GU’s 86-48 win over San Francisco. “So we’re going to try to do it on the road.”

Super predictions

Point guard Josh Perkins is from Denver so his Super Bowl prediction needs little explanation.

“Cam (Newton) is special but our defense is playing really well right now,” said Perkins, who attended several Broncos games as a youngster. “I think we’re up to the task. Nigel (Williams-Goss) likes Cam, Jeremy (Jones) likes Carolina. We’re setting push-up bets.”

Perkins played football until his freshman year of high school. “Didn’t want to get hurt for basketball season,” he said.

Few, a fan of Peyton Manning’s and Tom Brady’s work, sided with the Panthers. “They seem to be on a roll and having fun,” he said.

Bench support

Gonzaga’s bench contributed 29 points in the victory over San Francisco, matching the reserves’ highest conference total (vs. Pepperdine on Dec. 21). Silas Melson led the way with 15 points and Bryan Alberts added 10.

Center Ryan Edwards’ numbers weren’t eye-catching (two points, four rebounds, one assist) but he was solid at both ends of the court.

“By and large, I thought he protected the rim, which is what we’re asking him to do without Shem (Przemek Karnowski),” Few said. “We actually extended the lead with him in there with (Sabonis) out because he was doing such a nice job.”

The Zags have made 28 3-pointers in their last two games, five by Alberts.

“I have to look for it a little bit more. I think I’m progressing a little bit in that area,” Alberts said. “I’m always looking for the best shot for our team but sometimes it’s me taking it. I have to recognize that.”

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