No. 1 Gonzaga goes back to work

Associated Press  |  Last updated March 05, 2013
Gonzaga is the first team outside of the six major conferences to be ranked No. 1 since Memphis in 2007-08. You wouldn't guess that was the case as the Bulldogs prepared to practice Tuesday for the first time since making program history a day earlier with its first No. 1 ranking in The Associated Press' Top 25. The players casually shot around. No special banners hung in The Kennel. There was no flood of extra media, no glad-handing boosters. It was business as usual for a program that has won 80 percent of its games since the turn of the century. ''This team's pretty grounded,'' coach Mark Few said. ''We all understand we've got a lot of work left to do. We've had some fun with it, but the ranking is not going to score any baskets or block any shots.' ''Our greatest motivator is we want to keep playing together as long as we can.'' Few tried to keep things normal when the poll came out Monday. He gave his team the day off and went fishing. He declined to say if he caught anything. ''We hadn't had one in forever,'' Few said of the day off. ''Everybody needed to get away from basketball.'' There was some news Tuesday. Center Kelly Olynyk was named the West Coast Conference player of the year, after averaging 17 points and nearly 7 rebounds per game. ''It's a huge honor,'' said Olynyk, a junior who took a rare mid-career redshirt season last year to improve his body and his game. A 7-footer from Kamloops, British Columbia, Olynyk is a major reason the Zags have the nation's best Division I record (29-2) and won all 16 games in the WCC. ''It's more of a team thing for us,'' Olynyk said after becoming the 11th Gonzaga player to win the award. ''They could have picked anybody.'' ''He's really made huge strides physically and mentally,'' Few said of Olynyk, who shot 66 percent from the field in conference games. Forward Elias Harris and guard Kevin Pangos joined Olynyk on the all-conference team. Guard Mike Hart was selected the league's defender of the year and Few was named coach of the year for the ninth time in 14 seasons. By winning the WCC regular season title, Gonzaga earned a bye into Saturday's semifinals of the league tournament in Las Vegas. The Zags aren't taking the conference championships lightly, especially after losing the title game last year to Saint Mary's. And they hear the critics who contend the Zags don't deserve a top ranking because of their soft conference schedule. ''We know our league is tough,'' Hart said. ''The upper half is very solid.'' ''If we're No. 1 for a week and lose it in the (conference) tournament, nobody is going to remember that,'' guard Gary Bell Jr. said. ''We've got to maintain No. 1.'' ''We have a mature team,'' Bell added. ''We're ready for this.'' Harris, the senior forward who averaged more than 14 points and 7 rebounds per game, believes Gonzaga still has to earn national respect. ''Deep inside we have to keep in mind we're still going to be the underdog,'' Harris said after the Zags beat Portland last Saturday. ''People aren't going to look at us like a Duke or North Carolina or a Kentucky.' ''People, for some reason, still think Gonzaga is a Cinderella story.'' Harris stood by that statement on Tuesday, saying the onus is still on Gonzaga to prove it deserves a top ranking. ''We need to come out and play hard and get the respect we deserve,'' Harris said. Hart said all of the games from now on are basically win or go home. ''That should take some of the pressure off because everyone is in the same position,'' he said.
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