Mark Few has finally taken the Gonzaga Bulldogs where they’ve always seemed destined to go. They’re just one win from immortality and decisively reaching the pinnacle of college basketball. It feels like we’ve been waiting for Gonzaga to have this breakthrough for more than a decade. We finally got it this season.
Long questioned for beating up on weak competition in the West Coast Conference, no one can doubt Few or the Zags anymore. The 54-year-old head coach has done his best job in his 18th season as the head coach in Spokane. Yes, he’s gotten help from an incredibly well-rounded roster, but Few has had that before. This year the team has an added toughness and calm that speaks to the influence of its coach. On Saturday night, Gonzaga outlasted a dogged, tough South Carolina team, earning a 77-73 win in the first national semifinal.
This year Few has taken three transfers, a massive Polish center with a ridiculous beard, a super-freshman center and his typical mix of solid role players and pieced it into a perfectly-balanced juggernaut. Nigel Williams-Goss, Jordan Mathews and Johnathan Williams are all in their first year at Gonzaga after transferring in, but have fit in with the team seamlessly. Freshman center Zach Collins, who came up huge in Saturday’s game, has also been phenomenal in his first year on campus. Molding new pieces into a cohesive unit is terribly difficult, but Few and his staff have done it.
Few, a sure-fire Hall of Famer, has been incredible throughout his career. Gonzaga is the only school he’s known as a collegiate coach, as he spent the 1989-90 season on board as a graduate assistant, before becoming an assistant coach from 1990 to 1999. When Dan Monson bolted for Minnesota, Few took over as the head coach in July of 1999. The Bulldogs have never looked back.
In 18 seasons, Few has led Gonzaga to 16 regular season WCC championships and 14 WCC tournament titles. He has an unbelievable regular season record of 503-112 (.818), and a conference record of 243-29 (.893). The Zags have reached the NCAA Tournament in each of his 18 seasons as the head coach, have reached the second round 15 times and the Sweet 16 seven times. This was the team’s first trip to the Final Four and it has made the most of it.
While losing just one game all season, Gonzaga posted the nation’s top adjusted defensive efficiency rate according to KenPom. On Saturday night they faced the team that ranked second, and carved them up. The Zags scored 77 points and shot 48.3 percent from the field and 47.4 percent from beyond the arc. The Bulldogs also stayed composed, as South Carolina went on a 16-0 run to take the lead 67-65 with 7:06 remaining. The Zags could have collapsed, but Few remained calm in two separate timeout huddles, his players stayed organized and they ran of a 7-0 run of their own. Gonzaga never trailed again.
It was an unbelievable effort that showed toughness, calm, determination and a heck of a lot of talent. Gonzaga is big, strong, talented and smart. Thanks to their efforts Saturday night, the Zags are now just one win from hoisting a national championship. For Few and the school, it’s been a long time coming.