DENVER -- Steve Lavin momentarily put on his analyst’s cap and gave a glowing review of Gonzaga’s chances in the NCAA tournament after the Zags dominated his St. John’s team throughout an 86-71 second-round win.
“They’re definitely a Final Four-capable team, national championship-potential team,” Lavin said.
Those were the words the former ESPN analyst used to describe a No. 11 seed, one that began the season 4-5 and slogged through the tough part of its difficult nonconference schedule. Gonzaga was even three games out of first place in the WCC at one point.
But expectations are high again now for the Zags, who have won 10 games in a row and are feeling good enough about themselves to say that in their minds, taking down the 6th-seeded Red Storm wasn’t much of an upset.
“If you look at the bracket, yes,” forward Elias Harris said. “If you know us, this was a fair fight. For them, it was not cool to play us.”
Said center Robert Sacre: “I don’t see why it was an upset. I don’t think we get enough credit.”
Yes, the Zags have heard all the talk about them not having played anyone in the one-bid WCC. They simply don’t believe it and try to make their case on the court.
So rather than look at St. John’s as a favorite that needed to be slayed, Gonzaga just went out and thrashed its Big East opponent. With leading rebounder D.J. Kennedy lost for the season, the Red Storm saw the Zags out-rebound them 43-20. In fact, after going up by 11 with 18:59 left, Gonzaga never saw its lead slip under double-digits again.
Marquise Carter was fantastic in his first NCAA tournament game, as the junior college transfer had 24 points, six rebounds and six assists.
“I’m tickled pink for these guys,” Few said. “They took the game plan and executed it. “
The Zags might consider itself a young team, but Gray, Harris and Sacre make up a big lineup that is battle-tested from its previous tournament experience, and Few said it helped the Bulldogs against a senior-laden St. John’s team dancing for the first time in nine years.
Dwight Hardy scored 26 points, and Justin Brownlee had 14 for St. John's, but Gonzaga’s rebounding edge was difficult to overcome. The Zags also shot 9-for-15 from beyond the arc, with Gray and Carter doing the most damage. For the game, they shot 53.8 percent from the field.
So while Harris has heard the criticism that the Zags don’t play anyone in the WCC, he said that the team doesn’t really listen to it. Playing with blinders is how Sacre described it.
The Bulldogs have fingers in their ears while the rest of the nation either continues to doubt them or adores their underdog status.
After convincingly beating St. John’s, does the slipper actually still fit for Gonzaga?