Gonzaga Remains Confident

Wednesday, March 21st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) — Three straight appearances in the third round of the NCAA tournament warrants being labeled better than a ``mid-major'' team, Gonzaga feels.

``Mid-major is a misnomer,'' coach Mark Few said during a conference call Tuesday, three days before the Bulldogs play defending national champion Michigan State in the South Regional semifinals at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. ``That just shows the ignorance out there. That's just an ignorant statement to make.

``You can call our conference (the West Coast Conference) mid-major because we don't have the money to build big football stadiums. People are so used to waxing on about people from football conferences, they don't do their homework. That's very shortsighted.

``You shouldn't throw out labels. This team has been high-major the last three years and should be referred to as that.''

Gonzaga has proved its high stature the past three seasons.

In 1999, the Bulldogs reached the round of 16 by beating No. 2 seed Stanford, and got as far as the final eight before losing to Connecticut. Last year, they advanced to the regional semifinals with an upset of No. 2 St. John's, and this season they made it by surprising No. 4 Virginia in the opening round, then defeating Indiana State, the first time they've played a lower-seeded team.

Gonzaga's penchant for surprise victories has endeared them to basketball fans across the country ... the little school that could.

Dan Dickau, the high-scoring guard, likens the Bulldogs' fascination to that of the Dallas Cowboys — America's team.

``I think so,'' Dickau said when asked about Gonzaga's appeal to just the average fan.

He noted that several fans went from Spokane, Wash., home of the 4,700-student school, to Memphis, Tenn., to watch the Bulldogs in their first two South Regional games, adding that ``a lot of times in Memphis, the (other) fans there got behind us.''

``Some fans can relate to us,'' Dickau said. ``They realize they could have been us when they were younger.''

For the third straight year, the Zags were a double-digit seed in the tournament, and again they have befuddled the so-called experts.

``I didn't think we were a No. 12 seed,'' Dickau said, ``but there's no sense complaining. It got us to the Sweet 16, so we won't complain anymore.''

The Bulldogs are decided underdogs again — 9 1/2 points against the Spartans — but aren't awed by the prospect of facing the powerful Spartans, the nation's best rebounding team for the second straight year. Michigan State has a plus 16.2 rebounding margin, Gonzaga is only plus 5.8.

``We've used their rebounding as an advantage to our guys,'' Few said, ``We've pointed out how their guys go to the boards with reckless abandon and pursue every loose ball.''

Dickau also said Michigan State's rebounding would be a challenge.

``We also feel that rebounding is one of our strengths, but they've taken it to another level,'' he said. ``We'll have to rebound very well to keep up with them.

``Anytime you're about to play the defending national champions and No. 1 seed, you should be glad to be in the tournament. It's more motivation to us that they've been there.

``We have great respect for what they did last year and what they've done this year. I don't know how much confidence they'll have playing us, but we respect them. They're the team that's supposed to win this game.''

That hasn't always mattered to Gonzaga.