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Gonzaga Basketball

After nearly three weeks in the bubble, top-ranked Gonzaga remains as focused as ever

Security keeps fans away as the Zags board buses at Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse after defeating Oklahoma on Monday in Indianapolis.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

INDIANAPOLIS – It’s been nearly three weeks since Gonzaga checked into its team hotel.

Long enough to know the front desk managers by name. Long enough to have done several cycles of laundry and misplace a few key cards.

There’s a robust breakfast spread for the top-ranked Bulldogs – eggs, bacon, sausage, potatoes and pancakes – but even those tasty offerings tend to get stale after a few daily servings.

But in a rare NCAA Tournament where an entire 68-team field has come to one city, longevity is a good thing.

Repetition is a privilege.

Gonzaga, which faces UCLA in the Final Four on Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium, isn’t complaining.

“It’s nice we have been in the bubble so long. Each day feels the same as the last one,” Gonzaga guard Corey Kispert said. “Even though there’s this big build-up with these big games, we’re not on different planes flying to different arenas, we’re not back in Spokane with people telling us how great we’ve been.”

The Bulldogs, the favorite in a pandemic-altered NCAA Tournament dubbed “Bubbleville” for keeping its teams Ziploc-tight away from the general public to stifle any potential coronavirus infections, are in the homestretch.

After dispatching tournament foes Norfolk State, Oklahoma, Creighton and USC by an average of 24 points to reach the program’s second Final Four appearance since 2017, Gonzaga continues to embrace its shielded-from-the-world lifestyle.

Two more wins – which would secure the school’s first national championship – and all of the Bulldogs’ social sacrifices and monotony will have been worth it.

Not that Gonzaga and its 34-member party of players, coaches and personnel have been twiddling their thumbs in their down time.

Between practice, scouting opposition, study halls – Gonzaga academic support specialist Stephanie Galbraith is also inside the bubble – fun, team-building activities and other obligations, there are no signs of in-the-bubble apathy.

But Gonzaga’s first 10 days in Indianapolis were an adjustment period, according to Bulldogs sports information director and media liaison Barrett Henderson, who is also in the team bubble.

There’s been daily coronavirus testing, trips to the team’s nearby practice facility flanked by security that often surrounds the hotel, and adjusting to the Eastern Time Zone.

Now, 20 days in, things have pivoted to normalcy.

Since players and most staff members mostly aren’t anywhere but gymnasiums and hotels, many packed light, wearing mostly sweats.

Most rooms are clean. Some are musty.

“We have pretty good room service and the rooms are clean and laundry is done, but some college kids aren’t always on top of that,” Henderson said. “It’s like ‘Hey, man, it’s been a week. Clean your room.’

“(Coach Mark) Few joked that this feels like a big fraternity house. It really has a summer camp vibe here.”

Gonzaga’s lunches are often of the sandwich and smoothie variety, and dinner typically consists of a meal delivered from outside the hotel.

Snacks, protein bars and sports drinks are readily available on the team’s hotel floor.

So are several video games, depending on which room you walk into.

Some players have Playstations. Others have XBox. Henderson, knowing he would be in for a long stay, brought his “old school” Nintendo Wii.

Kispert put to work on his short game, and players were recently bowling with a light set of pins and balls in their hallway.

The board game Catan is also popular among players and staff, especially guards Kispert, Joel Ayayi and Jalen Suggs.

The NCAA has made sure teams get their share of fresh air, too, by reserving popular attractions Indianapolis Zoo and the Top Golf in a bubble-like setting.

A nearby convention center, where Gonzaga trains and practices, also put together small movie theaters for teams to take in a few flicks.

Just down the street from Gonzaga’s team hotel is the home of the Indianapolis Indians, a AAA farm team of the Pittsburgh Pirates. The sizable venue has given Gonzaga ample space to play outside in a bubble setting.

Few goes on runs inside the stadium. Players throw around a football, play badminton and do other physical active things on the outfield grass.

“After winning a game here, someone said, ‘I have never been more excited to get back to the bubble,’” Henderson said. “There are so many teams that would rather be here right now.”

Kispert, an NBA draft prospect in the twilight of his college career, is taking it all in.

“(The bubble) makes it easy for us to stay focused on the present and be in the moment,” he said.