SPOKANE — While national pundits debate Gonzaga’s merits as a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs are closing in on a top seed entirely within their grasp.
Gonzaga (25-2, 12-0 WCC) is two wins from claiming at least a share of the conference title and the No. 1 seed in the WCC Tournament. The third-ranked Bulldogs expanded their lead with a road sweep over Saint Mary’s and San Francisco last week.
“We’ve put ourselves in the position we want to be in this time of year,” senior wing Mike Hart said. “Hopefully we focus on one game at a time and we can close it out.”
The Zags entertain fourth-place Santa Clara, which is battling for favorable seeding, today at 8 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The top two seeds earn byes into the tournament semifinals. The third and fourth seeds have byes into the quarterfinals. The Broncos (19-8, 7-5), winners of seven of their last nine, are one game behind BYU in the loss column and one game ahead of San Diego, GU’s opponent on Saturday.
“It’s nice to be ranked really high,” senior forward Elias Harris said, “but it doesn’t really mean anything if we lose a game in the next couple weeks.”
Kelly Olynyk scored a career-high 33 points to lead Gonzaga past Santa Clara 81-74 in early January. Kevin Foster had 29 points on 10-for-24 shooting for SCU, which boasts four career 1,000-point scorers. Raymond Cowels III reached the milestone in Saturday’s win over Pepperdine, joining Marc Trasolini, Evan Roquemore and Foster, who is third in WCC history with 2,187 points.
Davidson, North Carolina State and Indiana are the only other teams with four 1,000-point scorers. The four Broncos have combined for 370 starts in 469 career games.
“This is as experienced a team as there probably is in college basketball,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They’re going to come in here with a lot of confidence, everything to gain and nothing to lose.”
Foster leads the WCC in 3-pointers made (81) and steals (2.4). He’s third in scoring (18.4) and sixth in assists (4.4). Trasolini is seventh in scoring (15.8) and third in rebounding (8.1). Roquemore is 14th in scoring (12.5) and third in assists (5.7). Cowels, who makes 41 percent of his 3-point attempts, averages 9.9 points per game.
“We have to do a good job controlling their guards,” Few said, “but also they beat us pretty good on the glass and around the basket so we have to address that as well.”