Gonzaga, ranked 29th in this week's ESPN/USA TODAY Coaches Poll, have lost only to 8th-ranked Illinois in the season opener in Champaign, and to 16th-ranked Marquette in the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout. And included in their 7-2 overall mark are wins over ranked opponents Texas and Fresno State. They are a unanimous pick by WCC coaches to defend their West Coast Conference tournament title for a fourth straight year. And with four straight wins, it would seem that coach Mark Few's Bulldogs are at it again.
Only this time, and perhaps more impressively, they're not catching anyone off-guard. They're getting everyone's "A-game".
After three straight Sweet-16 appearances at the NCAA tournament, including an Elite-8 run in 1999 and beating the likes of Virginia, Stanford, Florida and St. Johns along the way, teams can no longer afford to take Gonzaga lightly. Yet the Zags just keep on playing their hard-nosed game – and beating people with it.
And leading Bulldog Dan Dickau expects the hustle train to keep right on rolling.
"I think guys here have taken a real mature approach to that," the former Husky says about the Zags' expectations of making it four straight trips to The Dance. "That success only makes you hungry to do it again. Not to prove something to other people -- I think we're way beyond that -- but just to ourselves that we can do it again and that we can keep this program at that level."
For Dickau, the Washington Class AAA High School Player-of-the-Year in 1997 and USA team member at the World University Games, this will be the first time he's faced his former team on the court, even though it's the schools' third meeting since his transfer three years ago. After a redshirt year sitting out the transfer following his sophomore season, the senior suffered a broken finger last year just prior to the Washington contest and had to watch Gonzaga's 86-74 win in street clothes. Casey Calvary scored 29 points as the Bulldogs would pull away late after the Huskies held a one-point halftime lead.
Though Calvary has moved on to play basketball overseas, cleaning the glass remains Gonzaga's biggest strength, with the Zags out-rebounding their opponents by 14 per contest. Only Marquette has out-boarded them, and they've owned double-digit advantages in six of their seven wins, including 49-32 over Fresno State (they also out-rebounded Illinois by 10 in defeat). Always active on the glass are junior Zach Gourde -- Dickau's teammate at Vancouver-Prairie high -- and sophomore Cory Violette, who combine for 17 boards a game. Six-foot-nine freshman Ronny Turiaf -- who hails from the French Caribbean island of Martinique and went to high school in Paris -- chips in six rebounds per contest off the bench. "Cory's had a heck of a year rebounding," coach Few says of Violette, who's 20 boards against Melvin Ely helped seal the win over their Bulldog namesake. "He's hitting the glass as well as any player I've seen in my 13 years at Gonzaga."
Washington has been winning their board battles by an average of five per game.
Dickau is 32-74 from the three-point line, and sees the court as well as anyone. Gourde was the WCC's Player-of-the-Week after his Alaska Shootout performance, and burned Fresno State for 22 points and 12 boards. He's hit 24 out of his last 35 shots. Sophomore guard Blake Stepp has been slowed by knee and ankle problems all year, hitting only 22-percent from the floor. JuCo transfer Winstron Brooks provides cat-quick penetration off the bench, and can also hit the three.
Few, who has a .776 winning percentage (59-17) in his third year at the leash, equaled his predecessor Dan Monson with 52 wins in his first two seasons. That total is third-best all time in NCAA annals. He is 2-0 lifetime against the Huskies, as the Zags have won three straight over Washington. Husky head coach Bob Bender is looking to even his lifetime record against Gonzaga at 3-3.
The 10,000 in attendance should be treated to quite a show.
PAC-10 tournament causes some strange scheduling: After the Gonzaga game, the Huskies only have two games in the next 16 days (UCLA on December 20, and USC on December 27). They will then embark immediately to Missouri for a game on December 29th with Lorenzo Romar's Saint Louis Billikens, before resuming PAC-10 play after the New Year – again facing UCLA and USC, this time in Los Angeles.
NEXT UP: Thursday, December 20 vs. UCLA at Bank of America Arena.
(Rick Samek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
GONZAGA CL HT PTS REB WASHINGTON CL HT PTS REB Zach Gourde JR 6-8 16.0 8.2 Doug Wrenn SO 6-8 17.7 6.4 Anthony Reason SR 6-7 3.4 3.9 Grant Leep SR 6-7 7.9 3.6 Cory Violette SO 6-8 11.6 9.3 David Dixon SR 6-11 10.1 9.0 Dan Dickau SR 6-1 18.2 4.3* Curtis Allen SO 6-0 13.4 4.6* Blake Stepp SO 6-4 5.0 1.6 Erroll Knight FR 6-7 8.4 3.0 (* = Assists)