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Gonzaga Basketball

Plenty of milestones for Gonzaga coach Mark Few on his way to 500 wins

Pick a number between 1 and 500.

You like 51? So did Alex Hernandez, whose defense on Virginia scoring machine Roger Mason Jr. in the final 8 seconds preserved an 86-85 Gonzaga victory in the 2001 NCAA Tournament – the 51st for Mark Few as a head coach.

Or 130? That was a romp past Santa Clara to clinch the Bulldogs’ first unbeaten West Coast Conference season – 14-0 – in 2004.

What about 275? Elias Harris’ off-balance bucket made Few and the Zags overtime winners over Illinois in the House that Michael Jordan Filled in 2009. An even 400? David Stockton’s twisting layup held off Santa Clara in the 2014 WCC tournament, on the same night his sister won a state title with Gonzaga Prep.

Or maybe you like No. 500 best, just because it allowed the Bulldogs to play another day this week.

That was the biggest distinction in Gonzaga’s 79-73 escape over Northwestern last Saturday in the NCAA second round. The footnote: it was Few’s 500th victory as a college head coach.

And to him, even that was too much notice.

“Just because it’s not even about that,” he said in a temporarily quiet corner of the Zags’ dressing room on Saturday. “We’ve got a few guys over there who’d never made it to the Sweet 16 – never won a tournament game until the other day. That’s what it’s about.”

But the milestones – from 1 to 500 – illustrate the program’s evolution and, at least in raw data, Few’s stature in the coaching game.

Take that first win, a 76-61 decision over Montana. In Missoula. In those days, the Bulldogs still had home-and-home series with schools in the Big Sky, Big West – even Texas-Pan American, which now goes by an alias. Also, the Zags were more unvarnished with the press then, which is to say Casey Calvary was on the roster. He was one of four Zags who got their fifth fouls checking Matt Williams, who had most favored nation status with the zebras that night.

“It was no surprise to us that we were going to get hosed,” Calvary said.

From that lurching start, things have smoothed out – Few and the Zags winning at a rate of just under 28 times a year. By percentage, he’s the winningest active coach in Division I, and by getting there in 612 games he’s the third-fastest to 500 behind Kentucky’s Adolph Rupp (583) and UNLV’s Jerry Tarkanian (604).

It’s not the best time of year to get memory-lane material out of Few – no rear-view mirrors in March. Even when someone asked if the 2017 edition was his best team, he didn’t much want to go there.

“Do you have children?” he asked. “Do you ever pick? Say, you know what, A.J., you’re the best kid I’ve got. There’s just really no point in doing that.”

So in lieu of his favorites among 500, here are five – plus one – particularly significant wins along the way:

—- Gonzaga 59, UCLA 43 (Dec. 11, 1999): Coming off the Elite Eight run, the Bulldogs sought further validation. Taking down the 11th-ranked Bruins in Pauley Pavilion – in the most lopsided nonconference loss in the history of the building to that point – did the trick. So did Ryan Floyd’s five 3-pointers off the bench, all with John Wooden sitting in the bleachers.

—— Gonzaga 109, Michigan State 106, 3 OTs (Nov. 22, 2005): “Greatest game I’ve ever seen, and that’s coming from a Michigan State fan,” one witness told Adam Morrison, after the Maui Classic semifinal. Morrison had 43 points in a dizzying duel with MSU’s Maurice Ager: between them, 50 of their 79 points either gave their teams a lead, produced a tie or cut a two-possession deficit in half.

—- Gonzaga 82, North Carolina 74 (Nov. 2, 2006): No. 2 in the polls at the time, the Tar Heels remain the highest ranked team the Bulldogs have beaten – this one in Madison Square Garden. Derek Raivio had 21 points, Josh Heytvelt outplayed Tyler Hansbrough and UNC’s Roy Williams said, “The coach that did the best job was on the other bench.”

—- Gonzaga 89, Saint Mary’s 85 OT (Feb. 24, 2011): Down three games in the WCC standings after a loss to the Gaels in Spokane, the Zags earned a share of the crown in a shootout in Moraga, California. Sam Dower’s 21 points – including four big foul shots in overtime – led the way. This loss and another in the WCC tournament kept the Gaels out of the NCAAs.

—- Gonzaga 74, UCLA 62 (March 27, 2015): It got the Zags back to the Elite Eight, Few’s first as head coach. Enough said.

—- Gonzaga 85, Saint Mary’s 75 (March 8, 2016): It kept GU’s streak of NCAA appearances alive. More than enough said.

Or you can pick your own. There are only 500 choices.