SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Gonzaga enters the NCAA Tournament following a loss for one of the rare times under coach Mark Few.
The dominant team in the West Coast Conference for two decades, the Zags lost to Saint Mary’s in the conference title game last week in Las Vegas.
The players have put it behind them.
Few hasn’t completely — and may never.
“I would say that is definitely not my strong suit,” Few said Wednesday. “As a flawed human being, that would be an area I can work on better.”
Gonzaga never was able to establish its up-tempo style in the title game and the Gaels rolled to a 60-47 win to earn the conference’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The loss ended the Zags’ 21-game winning streak and their six-year reign as WCC tournament champions, but didn’t dissuade the NCAA Tournament selection committee from giving them the No. 1 seed in the West Region.
Gonzaga (30-3) opens tournament play Thursday in Salt Lake City against No. 16 seed Fairleigh Dickinson (21-13).
The Zags are expected to roll over the Knights, but will take nothing for granted, particularly after seeing No. 1 Virginia lose to No. 16 Maryland-Baltimore County a year ago at this stage. Gonzaga also is entering the NCAA Tournament after a loss for the first time since 2012.
“As a one seed, everyone is coming after you and they want to beat you,” Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins said. “They will come in here with nothing to lose, play with reckless abandon. Being a one seed, we have to know that going in and master intensity and control what we can control.”
The Knights twice trailed by 13 in their First Four game against Prairie View A&M before rallying for an 82-76 victory and the program’s first NCAA Tournament win.
FAMILIAR TERRITORY: For the second straight season, Murray State finds itself in a 5-12 game in the NCAA Tournament.
The Racers lost 85-68 to West Virginia in the first round last year in San Diego and hope that the experience makes them better prepared for another tournament game. Murray State is the 12 seed against fifth-seeded Marquette in a West Region game being played in Hartford on Thursday.
Star guard Ja Morant was a freshman on last year’s Murray State team and Ohio Valley Conference defensive player of the year Shaq Buchanan was a junior. Forward Brion Sanchious was also a starter on last year’s team.
Morant had 14 points on 5 for 10 shooting and three blocked shots against West Virginia, and Buchanan managed just six points.
“I would say last year was our first time so guys are happy to be there,” Buchanan said. “But this year with me and Ja and Brion, we have the focus that we can go far in this tournament. We have the team to do it.”
Murray State is making its 17th NCAA Tournament appearance. The Racers have won three first-round games, beating North Carolina State in 1988, Vanderbilt in 2010 and Colorado State in 2012.
COMMUNICATING CATAMOUNTS: Vermont coach John Becker believes a key to his program’s success has been his ability to communicate.
Becker learned the value of that as an assistant and later head coach in the 1990s at Gallaudet University, where his athletes were deaf or hearing impaired and he had to learn sign language to get his points across.
“We take for granted that communication piece,” he said. “And I never have since then. We over-communicate in our program here and we understand the importance of that and the value of that and how easy it is for us.”
The No. 13 seeded Catamounts (27-6) take on No. 4 seed Florida State (27-7) on Thursday.
Communication and help defense will be important for a team whose big man, Anthony Lamb, is 6-foot-6. The Seminoles have three starters taller than that, including 7-4 Christ Koumadje, and 6-10 Mfiondu Kabengele, the ACC sixth man of the year, coming off the bench.