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Gonzaga’s one-game-at-a-time approach focuses on Syracuse in Sweet 16

Gonzaga guard Silas Melson kicks a fast break into high gear against Utah at the Pepsi Center, March 19, 2016 in the Zags’ NCAA Second Round win in Denver, Col. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Silas Melson aced the one-game-at-a-time pop quiz.

A half hour after Gonzaga dusted Utah 82-59 on Saturday in an NCAA tournament second-round mismatch, the sophomore guard was quizzed about the Zags’ next opponent, admittedly an unfair question since Middle Tennessee and Syracuse didn’t meet until Sunday.

“Whoever steps in front of us,” Melson said.

You honestly don’t know? Melson shook his head no.

“Our theme the whole year has been next game,” Melson said. “You make a turnover, next play. Lose a game, next game. Win a game, next game. That’s what we’re going for.”

The 11th-seeded Zags on Sunday learned their next game will be against No. 10 seed Syracuse in the Sweet 16 on Friday in Chicago.

“We pay attention but honestly it doesn’t matter,” freshman point guard Josh Perkins said. “The way we’re playing right now I wouldn’t want to play us.”

Perkins and Melson, the two youngest Zags in the rotation, sound a lot like the veteran players and the coaching staff in directing their full attention on the next opponent.

“It’s not hard at all because you win or go home,” Perkins said. “You have to focus on the task at hand and we’ve done a great job with these last two games.”

There was hardly a hint of a comeback by either Seton Hall or Utah against the Zags, who earlier this season struggled to protect double-digit leads in the second half. Gonzaga led for nearly 77 of the 80 minutes and trailed for only 2:13.

“We’re on a roll, everybody is loving it and we don’t want it to end anytime soon,” senior guard Kyle Dranginis said. “I’m ready to play another 40 right now.”

Asked how far the Zags can go, Dranginis mentioned the future and the present.

“We can go all the way the way we’re playing right now, the confidence we have in each other, the trust we have in each other,” he said. “We’re feeling great. One game at a time, but we’re feeling really good.”

Late growth spurt

The Zags have made huge strides since falling to visiting Saint Mary’s on Senior Night on Feb. 20.

“We could have collapsed right then,” senior forward Kyle Wiltjer said. “But we just continued to work hard and listen to the coaches.”

Gonzaga has won seven straight games, for a variety of reasons.

“It’s everything,” assistant coach Brian Michaelson said following the rout over Utah. “It’s the growth of the confidence of the guards, it’s the way we’re shooting the ball, it’s attention to detail. Earlier in the year we were hitting some coverages and missing some coverages. Tonight it was perfect. I think our effort was good all year but it fluctuated a little bit. There was no fluctuation tonight.

“It’s (players) sticking with it. But it’s hard not to say it’s those guards playing so well and with so much confidence. Domas (Sabonis) and Wiltjer have continued to get better. Wiltjer has taken leaps and bounds on the defensive end and rebounding, and that’s probably been a huge thing, but those two have been scoring the ball all year. Domas has been a walking double-double all year. Those guards are showing up every night.”

Edwards improving

Reserve center Ryan Edwards played seven minutes in the two games in his return from an MCL injury suffered during the WCC tournament. He logged five minutes against Seton Hall and two versus Utah. The Zags used a four-guard set during one stretch against the Utes.

“It’s a lot better for sure,” Edwards said.