Slipper Still Fits Gonzaga in NCAA Tournament - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather KHQ.com

Slipper Still Fits Gonzaga in NCAA Tournament

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Keep the doubters coming, Sam Adams believes Kevin Pangos and the Zags enjoy the underdog roll. Keep the doubters coming, Sam Adams believes Kevin Pangos and the Zags enjoy the underdog roll.

Last year, everyone was throwing rose pedals on Gonzaga going into the NCAA Tournament. This year, they're all throwing dirt.

The bracket prognosticators on ESPN, CBS, and the rest are proclaiming Oklahoma State (Gonzaga's opening round opponent) as the Cinderella of the West Region. They see #1 seed Arizona ripe for the taking for a trip to the Sweet 16, with not much else standing between the Cowboys and a trip to the Final 4. All of that may be true, except for one team: Gonzaga.

Have we forgotten that the Zags beat Oklahoma State on the road in Stillwater last season? Have we forgotten that Gonzaga is 5-0 all-time against the Cowboys? Have we forgotten GU hasn't lost an opening round game at an NCAA Tournament since they got Stephed (Steph Curry) by Davidson in Raleigh, North Carolina?

This is not last year's Gonzaga team. They had two NBA caliber players in the front court. Kelly Olynyk turned into a lottery pick, and Elias Harris had a dalliance with the LA Lakers before moving to his native Germany to play pro basketball. But with all due respect to Olynyk and Harris, this year's iteration of the Bulldogs has an opportunity to do even better than the 2012-13 squad when it matters most.

First and foremost, Gonzaga is playing its best basketball of the season. They totally dismantled a St. Mary's team that had legitimate NCAA Tournament aspirations twice down the stretch -- once in Moraga and again in Las Vegas. They manhandled a BYU squad that earned a 10-seed in the NCAA's this year, the 75-64 tournament-clinching win not nearly as close as the score would indicate.

So, what's the difference? Why should people be singing the praises of Gonzaga and not Oklahoma State? One, we all know an NBA lottery pick player doesn't guarantee postseason success. Gonzaga learned that the hard way last season, and Oklahoma State will find that out this season with Marcus Smart.

Two, defense. If you saw the WCC Tournament Championship game against BYU, you know GU is more than capable of making stops. They held the Cougars to 27 first half points and 35% shooting for the ballgame. If not for an extraordinary 11-for-11 effort from the free throw line, Tyler Haws would've been held well below his 23.4 scoring average.

Last, but not least, expectations. Or lack thereof. After heaping nothing but praise to go along with a #1 seed and overall ranking upon the Zags a year ago, the national media is selling Gonzaga stock faster than you can say "Enron." This is where we all know Gonzaga thrives. The underdog. The Cinderella. And basketball fans, I'm here to tell you, the slipper still fits.

Gonzaga is finding ways to win without Kevin Pangos being at 100%. Sam Dower Jr. is coming on strong, averaging 17.5 points and 9 rebounds in 4 games during the month of March. And there's a supporting cast with David Stockton, Gary Bell Jr, Przemek Karnowski, Drew Barham and the rest, all capable of big games.

To those piling on the dirt, calling Gonzaga dead before the Tournament starts, my message to you is this: Keep Digging. Because the more you dig, the deeper your own hole is going to be.

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