Kevin Pangos and the Gonzaga Bulldogs entered this year’s NCAA tournament well aware of the fact that their chances to play for a national title are slipping away, and this time of year, opportunities can vanish in the blink of an eye.
Only a year ago, the Bulldogs posted an impressive 32-3 overall record that included an undefeated season in the West Coast Conference, and for the first time in the program’s history, Gonzaga was the top-ranked team in the country prior to the ”Big Dance”. But in a rare case of NCAA role-reversal, the Zags were defeated in the Round of 32, and could only watch as the country found a new place to put Cinderella’s glass slipper.
Currently Gonzaga’s undisputed leader, Pangos has a wealth of experience to fall back on after his extensive time with the Canadian national program and two previous appearances in the NCAA tournament, and has been preparing for this situation since first committing to the Zags in late 2010.
In his first year as a member of the Bulldogs, the feisty point guard averaged 13.6 PPG, 3.4 APG and 2.7 RPG, earning the ”WCC Newcomer Of The Year” award before Gonzaga was eliminated in the third round of the 2012 NCAA tournament. But after his sophomore year ended in disappointment last season, the Canadian once again dedicated his summer to jump shots and conditioning before returning to the pacific northwest in the fall determined to bring the Bulldogs back to the sport’s biggest stage.
Now a junior, Pangos has totaled 14.1 PPG, 3.7 RPG and 3.3 APG while leading the Bulldogs to a 29-6 overall record, and as a result, he received All-WCC First Team honors for the third straight season while head coach Mark Few and the Zags earned their 16th straight trip to the only postseason tournament that matters.
Minus current NBA rookie and fellow Canadian Kelly Olynyk, Pangos and Gonzaga began the 2013-14 campaign focused on reclaiming their rightful position as one of the nation’s finest mid-majors, and achieved their goal with a 15-3 mark in conference play and another WCC tournament championship.
Given the No. 9 seed in the West region, the Zags faced a tough test in their opening round contest on Friday when they squared off against Marcus Smart and the Oklahoma State Cowboys in San Diego. But despite a well-rounded outing from Smart in his final collegiate contest, Pangos led the mighty Bulldogs to a 85-77 victory with a stellar performance that featured 26 points, three rebounds, three assists and three steals.
Next up for Pangos and the Zags will be a meeting on Sunday with the Arizona Wildcats, the West region’s top-ranked program.