Saturday, March 20, 1999

Giddy Gonzaga enjoys role as America's team

Sharp contrast to uptight Connecticut

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        PHOENIX — Gonzaga is getting used to being the darling of March Madness.

        When they got a police escort to America West Arena and Thursday night's victory over Florida here in the West Region semifinals, they looked at each other and asked who had done what to get the team bus pulled over.

        “We didn't know what was going on. Everything's different. Everything to the chartered plane flights,” said Matt Santangelo, Gonzaga's junior guard. “Then we got on the bus today and we're saying, "Hey, where's the police escort?'”

        There's a good chance the 10th-seeded Zags will need assistance when they leave today's 3:40 p.m. regional final against Connecticut. The Huskies were No. 1 much of the season, are seeded first, and 10th seeds are 0-6 in regional finals in the last 20 years.

        But it's fun to watch UConn's chip on the shoulder pitted against Zaga's nothing-to-lose quips. Asked if the Zags are a reflection of their coach, the soon-to-be married Dan Monson, Casey Calvary said, “Our coach does a lot better with the women than we do.”

        Monson then announced, “Casey has been suspended. He's no longer available.”

        Of course, he is. Calvary, a sophomore forward, tipped in Quentin Hall's missed layup with 4.4 seconds left Thursday to beat Florida.

        Meanwhile, UConn coach Jim Calhoun frets about his press clippings and wonders how big the bonfire would be back home in Storrs, Conn., if the Huskies lose.

        Gonzaga assures America that everyone's favorite underdog isn't just laughing into the matchup with the Huskies. This is a solid team coming off three straight victories over teams from the Big Ten, Pac 10 and SEC, and is 19th in the power ratings. But yes, they're enjoying the moment.

        “When we got ranked 25th, it was a thrill to see that No. 25 by Gonzaga on ESPN,” Santangelo said.

        “We're not used to the media attention as UConn,” junior guard Richie Frahm said. “It's more of a formality for them. For us, it's a good opportunity to tell stories about how we got here. It's a group of guys who have little quirks.”

        Their emotional leader is Hall, a senior point guard from the Bahamas who just smiled when asked if he had seen past NCAA Tournaments: “I've been watching it since I was 9. We get television over there, too.”

        Santangelo, a junior guard, is their floor leader. Frahm is the best shooter on a team of shooters who have made 23-for-42 from three-point range in the last two games.

        The Zags are a rare bunch in the information age, virtually unheard of east of their hometown of Spokane, Wash. But the Zags know the nation is their rooting section now.

        “That's the way this country is,” said Calvary, who thinks he went on three radio shows Fri day morning while he was still asleep. “They always love to see the little guy finally get his moment in the light.”

        The moment is the din of a police escort. The moment is a highlight bite on ESPN. The moment is when Santangelo heard that major league baseball player F.P. Santangelo was telling writers over in nearby Scottsdale, at the San Francisco Giants' spring training base, that he wasn't related to the kid from Gonzaga.

        “I know I've come a long way when a major-league baseball player has to say he's not related to me,” Matt Santangelo said.

        The moment is today.