The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been the standard for the West Coast Conference since 1999 when they started their current 14-year streak of NCAA Tournament appearances. They have been one of the most consistently successful mid-major programs, appearing in five Sweet Sixteens and an Elite Eight under head coach Mark Few. Despite all that success, however, the Zags have never done what they’ve accomplished this year: starting the season with a 9-0 record.
The previous best start was back in 1998, when Dan Monson coached his team to an 8-0 record before dropping their first game. That team would go on to finish 28-7, earning a 10-seed into the NCAA Tournament. That team is the one that sparked the magic at Gonzaga, making a run to the Elite Eight before losing a close game to the eventual national champion Connecticut Huskies. The 1998-1999 Zags are the most successful Gonzaga basketball team to this day.
But this year’s team is aiming to change that. Few’s 2012 team is off to the best start in the program’s history after gutting out a 71-69 win at the buzzer over a tough Washington State Cougars club. The win was the first time that Gonzaga has been pushed for a full 40 minutes this season as the Zags were forced to rally from a four-point deficit at halftime.
The team dug deep and showed the resiliency that will serve them well throughout the season and into the NCAA Tournament. If there was a Gonzaga team that was going to break through and reach a Final Four, this is it.
Simply put, this is the deepest, most balanced team that Mark Few has had in Spokane. They have excellent guard play led by Kevin Pangos, who hit the game-winner against WSU, to go along with an unreal front court. Elias Harris, a Player of the Year candidate, and Kelly Olynyk pair up to be one of the best forward tandems in the country. Against WSU, they combined for 45 points, including 22 from Olynyk which all came in the second half.
Gonzaga will have bigger tests down the road, including their next game against the No. 13 Illinois Fighting Illini and finishing up their pre-conference schedule with a New Year’s trip to Stillwater to face the No. 23 Oklahoma State Cowboys. When conference play begins, you can count on the rest of the WCC bringing their best every night to try and knock off the top-10 Gonzaga Bulldogs.
However, this team has the makeup to overcome all of that. They are a well-coached club that can score points, play defense and has at least three players capable of taking over a game at any moment to carry the Bulldogs to victory. In short, don’t be surprised to see the Zags crash the party in Atlanta this April.