GLENDALE, Ariz. – Coach Mark Few, who leads his 37-1 Gonzaga Bulldogs into the National Championship game Monday night against the 32-7 Tar Heels of North Carolina, was asked by a reporter Sunday if he ever missed the days when he was beginning to build the program he has led to 18 consecutive NCAA Tournaments.
“Not really,” said Few, who was named the Associated Press College Basketball Coach of the Year on Thursday. “No, I mean, we experienced it, you know? And it was part of this. And it’s probably why we’re here on this day. And if we hadn’t went through that, we probably would have never prepared ourselves to do this. And so no, I mean, I’m enjoying the spot I’m in right now. Not to say I didn’t enjoy that. Like I said, it was kind of foot loose and fancy free, and we didn’t know any better. But I’m enjoying this phase now, too.”
A hairsbreadth away from a national championship, Few credited Gonzaga’s leaders past and present for having the vision and business acumen to recognize what an investment in basketball could mean for Gonzaga.
“All the credit goes to Gonzaga for my Athletic Director Mike Roth, Father (Robert J.) Spitzer (S.J.), and (President) Thayne McCulloh, and our Board of Trustees have all realized that if we invest in the program it’s going to grow everything. So we owe it to them for that,” Few said.
Few has guided the Zags to the program’s first appearance in the Final Four. The 37 wins is a new program record for most victories in a single season. It marks the 10th straight season with at least 25 wins, and third 30-win season in program history. The Bulldogs earned the top-seed in the West Region of the NCAA Tournament and had its second number one ranking in program history this season.
Asked about the biggest challenges presented by North Carolina, also a No. 1 seed, Few cited their transition defense, and rebounding.
“They’re as good as it gets in college basketball with offensive rebounding. And they have a plan and they do it well and their guys understand it. And so those two things, but then I don’t want to undervalue or underrate their defense,” he said. “There’s a reason they’re in the national championship game. Their defensive numbers, I was looking at the analytics at that. They’re really solid there also.”
Few said he has long admired legendary North Carolina Coach Roy Williams and always follows his teams.
“I’ve probably watched them 15 times this year just because I’m a fan of his and a fan of theirs and root for him,” Few said, noting that he ran the Kansas break for his first seven years at Gonzaga.
“Their whole transition deal. I just copied it, boom. And that’s all we did through our early years, just because I had so much respect for Roy,” Few said. “And it fit with what we’re doing and our philosophies were the same as far as playing fast and just running the secondary break.”
Asked about the narrative of tiny Gonzaga battling the giant North Carolina, Few said the Zags have some tradition, too.
“We don’t pretend or think we’re anywhere near the level with the tradition of Carolina or Duke or Kentucky,” he said. “But at the same time, I think we do feel we’ve been a national entity for quite some time. The product, the brand, the players, the team that we’re putting out there on the floor – we feel can compete with anybody in the country on any given night.”
Tipoff is at 6:19 p.m. Monday.