BOISE – Gonzaga will play in its 50th NCAA Tournament game on Thursday. UNC Greensboro will line up for its third.
The Zags are going for tourney win No. 30. The Spartans are 0-2. GU has made 20 consecutive NCAA appearances. UNCG hasn’t been involved since 2001.
Seven Zags have combined to play in 41 tournament games. UNCG’s entire roster will be making its tourney debut at Taco Bell Arena.
The first-round game will reveal if there’s much difference between the two teams, but in terms of postseason experience it’s no contest.
“None of our staff have coached in the NCAA Tournament with the exception of (former Zag) Kyle Bankhead, when he was at San Diego,” said UNCG head coach Wes Miller, who played on North Carolina’s 2005 NCAA championship team. “So this is really new for all of us, even for those of us (coaches) who played in it.”
Gonzaga senior Silas Melson has logged 11 NCAA games, second only to Przemek Karnowski’s 13 in program history. Josh Perkins cracks the top 10 with nine appearances.
“As a freshman I was real nervous, but I looked at guys like Kev (Pangos) and Przem and seeing how composed they were made me feel good about myself,” Perkins said. “Hopefully, the young guys see how composed me, Silas and J3 (Johnathan Williams) are and that we have their backs no matter what.”
Miller hasn’t been shy about scheduling tough nonconference opponents. UNCG has faced Virginia the last two seasons. The Spartans took on two ACC foes this season. They knocked off North Carolina State and lost by six to Wake Forest.
“I have great lifetime memories of playing in the NCAA Tournament,” Miller said. “I want our players to have those same experiences, but also to stay true to who we are and what our values are, and that’s a team that’s prepared every single day and hasn’t been afraid of any type of moment.
“We played at Virginia. We played in the NIT at Syracuse last year in a game that was nationally televised, and that was a big moment for our program. So I think there are some experiences, even though they’re not the NCAA Tournament, our players and staff can draw on.”
UNCG lost 60-48 to Virginia, the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed, in the season opener, but gained a new outlook.
“The Virginia game really helped us a lot in terms of how much defense does to the game,” junior guard Francis Alonso said. “Since that game we changed our mentality and how to approach every possession.”
Williams’ first NCAA Tournament experience was last year’s six-game run to the championship game.
“When I was a freshman (at Missouri), I was sitting at the house this time of year,” Williams said. “I feel like (last year) helped a lot. I might not be as nervous. The little things matter in this month.”
And the big things, too.
“Being part of this culture,” Melson said, “even if you’re only part of four of these (NCAA Tournaments) it kind of feels like your part of all 20.”
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