By Peter Tormey
SALT LAKE CITY – No. 1-seed Gonzaga held a closed practice today at EnergySolutions Arena, site of their third-round NCAA Basketball Tournament battle at 6:40 p.m. (MDT) Saturday (on TBS) against No. 9-seed Wichita State. The nation’s No. 1-ranked Zags (32-2) beat Southern 64-58 Thursday. The Shockers (27-8) stunned No. 8-seed Pittsburgh 73-55 to advance in the West region.
At a news conference, Coach Mark Few said the first thing that comes to mind for him, when watching the Shockers, is their toughness.
“They’re just a tough‑minded group, and they’re very confident, and they’ve got a real belief in, I think, not only their defensive system, but their rebounding,” Few said. “They play with a lot of freedom on offense and they have some real weapons. They’ve got a great post player in (Carl) Hall, a swing guy in (Cleanthony) Early, you know, that can hurt you in so many ways. And (Malcolm) Armstead is really having a heck of a year for them, also.”
Junior forward Kelly Olynyk, who scored 21 points against Southern, said his redshirt year last season allowed him to work harder than ever, since he didn’t need to rest for games, and gave him the opportunity to see his game in a new way.
“I got in the weight room a lot, tried to change my body and my athleticism and worked on the inside game to try to complement the skills I had before and make myself more versatile and a threat all over the floor,” said Olynyk, who recently was named to the Sporting News College Basketball All-America first team. “Also in that redshirt year, I got to see the game from the coaches’ perspective and see what the coaches wanted and how the coaches wanted the game to run and that kind of stuff. So I think that really helped me as well.”
Sophomore guard Kevin Pangos said the Shockers are tough.
“They’ve got a lot of depth, a bunch of guys score and contribute so it’s not just like you have to shut down one guy,” Pangos said. “They crash the glass and they’re great on the boards. We have to be physical and tough, go into the game and execute what our coach’s strategy is.”
The Bulldogs must be ready for a “battle,” Olynyk said.
“It’s going to be a hard‑fought game, physical, both ends of the floor and rough under the glass,” Olynyk said.
Pangos said the Zags feel no pressure to advance to the Elite Eight – an achievement Gonzaga has not attained since 1999 – only to win their next game.
“You say there is an expectation, but that’s for you guys,” Pangos told the media. “The expectation is not for us to make the Elite Eight. Our expectation is to win the next game. So when you say that, I think that’s for everyone else to think of. Our expectation is on Wichita State and that’s really it.”
Olynyk concurred, adding the Zags’ “family” wants to keep playing together for as long as possible.
“As a team we’re just a big family right now and we want to take this thing as far as we can,” Olynyk said. “None of us want to stop playing with each other. We love playing with each other. We have had the most fun I have had at Gonzaga this year and we don’t want it to stop.”
Asked about the significance of advancing in the NCAA Tournament with respect to his legacy as a coach, Few said he is not motivated to succeed for his own benefit but for the benefit of his players, Gonzaga and the community.
“This has nothing to do with me whatsoever. It never has and it never will,” he said. “It’s never been about me and it never will be about me. I don’t really ever think about my legacy. That’s to be determined by my wife and kids and what kind of family guy I am and what kind of dad I am.”