Gonzaga, the Cinderella who went from crashing the party to having a reserved seat close to the buffet table, has come along way since 1999 when the upstart Bulldogs, led by Dan Monson, made it all the way to a regional final as a No. 10 seed. Bursting onto the scene and endearing themselves to the public was the easy part, or step one. Step two took almost two decades, seven trips to the Sweet 16, one to the Elite 8, and tireless work from Mark Few and his staff to accomplish. Step two was turning the mid-major into an outdated label and Spokane into one of the foremost incubators of college hoops talent.
Gonzaga is no one’s bracket-buster. They are no one’s underdog. They are finally Final Four-bound, thanks to a 83-59 shellacking of Xavier in San Jose. No longer must they hear about how their March magic has never translated in a trip to college basketball’s biggest stage. No more. They’ve made it.
Stage three? Win the whole damn thing. And rest assured, they may very well do just that. Gonzaga will have a far superior offense to the East Region winner. Nigel Williams-Goss is an outside threat. Przemek Karnowski and Johnathan Williams are forces to be reckoned with in the low post. Saturday’s dismantling of Xavier was the first time the Bulldogs have shot the ball well from the perimeter during the tournament.
The results are obvious — and scary — for future opponents.
Gonzaga has one loss on its resume. That resume features the nation’s biggest scoring differential. Twenty-three of the Zags’ wins have been by 20-plus points. They aren’t the hunter and haven’t been for several years. They are the hunted. A Final Four trip seals it for the casual fan who learned the names of Matt Santangelo and Richie Frahm before learning Adam Morrison and J.P. Batista.
Gonzaga the program, to steal a political phrase, was likely already great. Nineteen straight NCAA Tournament appearances is one thing. Notching at least a win in 16 of those is another. That is exclusive company.
But there is something so definitive, so satisfying about a Final Four. And god knows how long the program has flirted with getting there. Perhaps most striking about Saturday’s game was the team’s businesslike reaction to punching its ticket to Phoenix. This is not some miracle run like in years past. This is a dominant team performing at its capabilities.
A lot has changed in 19 years but one thing remains the same. Gonzaga is dancing deep into the tournament.