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Gonzaga prepares to face Creighton’s ‘elite’ offense

The Zags are in the Sweet 16 for the sixth straight tournament.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Oklahoma at Gonzaga Marc Lebryk-USA TODAY Sports

Rankings and recognition? That’s more of a media and fans thing. On the week of the Sweet 16, Joel Ayayi said Gonzaga likes to keep its focus on the court.

“I love the fact that the fans can enjoy and brag about the fact that we are No. 1 and that we are having an undefeated season,” the redshirt junior guard saud. “But that’s something that us as players, and I’m sure coaching staff too, don’t really care about.”

The Bulldogs are taking on the Creighton Bluejays on Sunday in their sixth straight Sweet 16 appearance. Meanwhile, Creighton hasn’t been there since 1974. Gonzaga has been ranked No. 1 since the preseason and is the overwhelming favorite to go to the Final Four out of the West Region.

Earlier this week, Gonzaga became the first program ever to have three players named to the Wooden Award All-American Team. Drew Timme, Jalen Suggs and Corey Kispert made the cut, and Kispert was also named a finalist for the 2021 John R. Wooden Award.

The Zags have gotten a lot of recognition this season, but head coach Mark Few said the entire team has done a good job at staying grounded. He explained that at this point in the tournament, any team is capable of taking down any other team, including Gonzaga.

After their win against Oklahoma during the Second Round, Timme discussed how his team is approaching each game, which is the complete opposite of what the betting line says.

“We were treating this game like we’re a 16 seed and we’re the underdog,” Timme said on Monday.

Gonzaga has the No. 1 offense in the nation while shooting at 54.91% from the field and holding the best scoring margin (23 points). The Zags are known for their depth, but the Bluejays have a lot of that too.

Five Creighton players are scoring in double digits with junior guard Marcus Zegarowski contributing 15.7 points per game. Few said Zegarowski is dangerous because he makes all the right reads on ball screens while also being able to score and finish.

The other four scorers are Denzel Mahoney (12.5 ppg), Damien Jefferson (12.1 ppg), Christian Bishop (11.0 ppg) and Mitch Ballock (10.1 ppg). Bishop, a 6’7 forward, shoots at 68.2% from the field and leads his team with 48 dunks.

Three-pointers are a big part of the Bluejays’ offense; Creighton is sixth in the nation in attempts from beyond the arc and makes 9.6 threes per game, which is 20th best in Division I.

“They’re an absolute elite, I mean elite, offensive team year in and year out,” Few said. “Greg [McDermott] is brilliant with his offensive schemes. You do one thing, they counter with something else.”

Few also likes the Bluejays’ athleticism and experience. Gonzaga might be the favorite, but he said his team has the utmost respect for its opponent.

The teams played against each other in 2017 and 2018, with both games ending in wins for the Zags. The only common opponent they had this season was Kansas. Gonzaga took down the Jayhawks 102-90 during their season opener, while Creighton lost to them 73-72 in December.

Few said that, since before the West Coast Conference Tournament, he has been reminding his players that single-elimination contests means everyone will be bringing their A-game The Zags took some breaks to visit the Indianapolis Zoo and Top Golf this week. However, Few said his team is ready to work every time they’re on the practice court.

“I think teams are going to be playing their best against everybody,” he said. “If you lose now, your season is over.”