How Gonzaga Has Become a Consistent Contender in March

Story posted February 26, 2013 in Sports, CommRadio by Dan Landers-Nolan

The Gonzaga Bulldogs have been the darlings of college basketball for a decade and a half. They were the original “Cinderella” in the NCAA Tournament, and have made several deep runs under head coach Mark Few. But what makes this team continually successful?

 It isn’t just one factor that enables a team to reel of long win streaks or compete with the “major conferences.” Let’s take a look at some possible variables that have made the Zags contenders over the last 15 years.

A Consistent Coach: Mark Few had guided Gonzaga to 13 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and 11 straight West Coast Conference championships. Prior to becoming the head coach in 1999, Few served as a graduate assistant and assistant coach from 1990-1999.

This longevity and dependability has most certainly played a role in the Bulldogs’ success. Few’s Western roots (Attended and coached at Oregon prior to arriving to Spokane) aid him in recruiting some of the best athletes in that area. However, the coach is not the only reason Gonzaga has been one of the top teams out West.

A Solid Big Man: Casey Calvary. Ronny Turiaf. Robert Sacre. Although Gonzaga has never had an abundance of dominant post players, they manage to have a consistent presence in the paint that keys their rebounding and defensive efforts. 

Calvary was the big man on the original Cinderella team, and finished as the Bulldogs’ career leader in blocked shots with 207. He was responsible for sending Gonzaga to the 1999 Elite Eight, as he tipped in a missed shot with less than five seconds left against Florida. He also averaged 19 points a game as a senior in 2000-01.

Turiaf averaged over 15 points a game for his final three seasons as a Bulldog, and also averaged 9.5 rebounds as a senior in 2004-05. The Canadian Sacre played from 2007-12, and was named WCC Defender of the Year as a senior. This year’s team is led in scoring by 7-footer Kelly Olynyk, who averages nearly 18 points and 7 rebounds. Each of these big men created (or creates) just enough of a threat down low to draw defenders off the next men on the list.

A Dangerous Outside Shooter: Steph Curry has shown the basketball world that any team with a dangerous shooter has the ability to go deep into March. In his last two seasons in Spokane, Richie Frahm keyed the 1999 Bulldogs by shooting 40 percent from three-point range and averaging 16 points per contest.

Following Frahm, Dan Dickau shot 48 and 45 percent from three-point range, and was at least partially responsible for the birth of the Zags dominance in the WCC. After Dickau moved on, Adam Morrison came to Gonzaga and averaged 28 points per game during his senior year in 2005-06. The 6-foot-8 forward shot 42 percent from deep during that season, as Gonzaga advanced to the Sweet Sixteen.

Currently, the outside threat on the 27-2 Bulldogs is Kevin Pangos, who averages 44 percent from deep to go along with 11 points per game.

Although many teams have benefited from these elements for a season or a handful of seasons, not many have put them together to compete with the major conferences for over a decade like the Bulldogs. In fact, with their string of NCAA tournament appearances and victories, Gonzaga may well have shed the “mid-major” label, and at the very least, deserves to be considered as one of the top collegiate basketball programs of the last 15 years.

*All statistics courtesy of the University of Gonzaga media guide and website.

Dan Landers-Nolan is a senior majoring in broadcast journalism and secondary education. To contact him, email dsl5037@psu.edu.