Tuesday, March 20, 2001

Everybody's gaga over Gonzaga

Third straight year in Sweet 16

Associated Press Writer

        SPOKANE, Wash. — Only Duke and Michigan State have won more NCAA tournament games the last three years than Gonzaga.

        The Bulldogs (26-6), the 12th seed in the South Regional, are making their third consecutive trip to the round of 16.

        They advanced to Friday's game in Atlanta against defending champion Michigan State (26-4) by beating 13th-seeded Indiana State 85-68 at Memphis on Sunday.

        It was the Bulldogs' seventh tournament victory in three years and the first time they've played a lower-seeded team.

        “Clearly, Gonzaga has left far behind any sort of Cinderella or Johnny-come-lately image. They've been a solid program every year,” West Coast Conference Commissioner Michael Gilleran said from his San Bruno, Calif., office.

        “For better or worse, you are judged by how you do in March, and I think Gonzaga has shown the capability of playing with anybody in the country,” he said.

        On Monday, Gonzaga students returned from spring break, and campus bookstore employees strained to keep Bulldogs paraphernalia on the shelves. Manager Dave Hinze had 3,000 new NCAA tournament T-shirts and 700 “Zags” baseball caps shipped overnight to meet the anticipated demand.

        Tickets to the South region semifinals went on sale to students, employees and boosters before being offered to the public at $90 apiece. The school expected to sell out its allotment of 1,250 tickets.

        Instead of flying home for a short turnaround, the West Coast Conference champions stayed in the South and traveled to Atlanta on Monday.

        The last two times the Bulldogs advanced to the round of 16, it was over No. 2 seeds — Stanford in 1999 and St. John's last year.

        The national spotlight has been good for the Jesuit school of about 4,700 students.

        “Certainly, there has been an awareness,” Gonzaga spokesman Dale Goodwin said Monday. “It has had a significant effect on enrollment. We've had back-to-back record years in freshman enrollment.”

        Formerly, the school's registrar got two or three inquiries a year from potential students in eastern seaboard and southern states, there are now 15-to-20, Goodwin said.

        “The word is definitely out that Gonzaga is a reputable academic institution, and people are taking notice,” he said.

        The school's most famous alumnus probably was the late crooner Bing Crosby, for whom the campus library is named. The most prominent athletic star, John Stockton of the NBA's Utah Jazz, set school records for assists in 1981-1984 that still stand.

        The recent successes have spurred interest in replacing the 4,000-seat Martin Centre court, nicknamed “The Kennel,” with a 6,000-seat facility that would be the largest in the WCC.

        Athletic officials said construction could begin as early as next fall on the estimated $16 million to $17 million project.

        “I think it says a lot about our program,” Gonzaga's Casey Calvary said after Sunday's victory. “Rather than just having one set of players that come and go, we've had a lot of really great players and an excellent coaching staff. We've done a great job of recruiting.

        “We've had similar teams each time we've made a run, and perhaps this is our deepest and most talented team. They have all been real similar as far as team chemistry. We play hard and play well together.”

        That success has been noticed by the Zags' opponents in the WCC, a conference of eight Roman Catholic schools.

        “Everybody is using Gonzaga as the standard that we're going to try to meet. We want to be equaling and living up to their success, rather than hoping they're going to stumble,” conference official Gilleran said.

        “They've made people who are knowledgeable realize that good basketball is played in a lot of different places,” he said. “If you have tough kids who work well together and are well coached, that's all you need.”


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