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Gonzaga wins WCC title again, but Few doesn’t take it for granted

Despite winning league title No. 20, Zags’ coach kept things in perspective

NCAA Basketball: West Coast Conference Tournament-Gonzaga vs Saint Mary’s
Gonzaga claimed its 20th WCC championship with an 82-69 win over Saint Mary’s on March 8, 2022 in Las Vegas.
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are the West Coast Conference tournament champions, and likely No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament … again.

None of this comes as a shock. This is Gonzaga’s 20th WCC Tournament title, and the Zags are no strangers to being ranked. However, coach Mark Few said it is not an easy thing to achieve.

“I know sometimes people expect that, but it doesn’t just magically happen,” Few said. “There is so much work that goes into it. Everybody is gunning for us.”

Gonzaga only lost one game last season, and that was the NCAA Tournament championship game. This season the Bulldogs are entering the Big Dance with three blemishes on their resume, but that’s OK.

Few said the games they have lost can’t be overlooked, but in the end it’s all a learning experience. Beating a ranked Saint Mary’s 82-69 in the WCC title game certainly shows that.

This was the third time the teams faced each other in less than a month. Gonzaga won the first one, and Saint Mary’s took the second. The Bulldogs were hungry for revenge, but Saint Mary’s did not back down from the challenge in the rubber match.

The Gaels are a top-10 defensive team nationally, and this was clear when they held Gonzaga, the No. 1 offensive team in the nation, to only 57 points on Feb. 26. They opened Tuesday’s game by keeping the Zags scoreless for the first three minutes and taking an early 5-0 lead.

Gonzaga fought back and got up by as many as 12 points in the first half. The Bulldogs were getting hot, but Saint Mary’s did not let it get out of control. The Gaels made it a two-point game halfway through the second period.

Few’s team finished on top, but the coach started his postgame opening statement by giving credit to the Gaels.

“That’s a great high-level win for our guys,” he said. “I just can’t tell you how impressed we are with Saint Mary’s. How tough they are, how disciplined they are.”

Five Gonzaga players finished the game scoring in double digits with Andrew Nembhard’s 19 points leading the way while shooting at 50% from the field and going 3-of-5 from beyond the arc. Rasir Bolton contributed 18 points, and Julian Strawther added 16. Drew Timme and Anton Watson had 10 points each. Chet Holmgren was close to double figures, too, with eight points.

This is not uncommon as the Zags have five players averaging double-digit scoring this season. That type of unselfish offense is what Few’s teams have been known for.

While there are usually some players who get talked about more than others, Gonzaga has the best offense in the nation because of the depth of the roster. Even though some players in recent memory only stay for one year, such as Jaelen Suggs last year and likely Holmgren this season, Few’s teams always seem to have good chemistry.

The coach said the secret is to recruit the right players who put winning first and trust their teammates with the ball. Talent doesn’t hurt either.

“It starts with having the right kind of guys,” Few said. “They are special players who understand winning. They put winning first when they come to Gonzaga, it means, it literally means everything to them. I think there is a trust that comes with that.”

While the WCC does not have the reputation for being the strongest conference, a lot of teams get overlooked because Gonzaga always gets the spotlight. Saint Mary’s certainly proved why it entered Tuesday’s game ranked No. 17 in the country. San Francisco, Santa Clara and BYU also had their moments this season.

Few pointed out that Gonzaga also scheduled tough games for the non-conference schedule, including five ranked teams.

“You have to remember that being a No. 1 seed, that’s a reward for four months of going out, especially the way we schedule, playing the best of the best,” Few said. “And then battling everybody within our conference that gives you their best effort, their crowd’s best effort of the year when they play us. Everybody is looking to knock us off and storm the floor.”