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Alexander: Has Gonzaga been insulated from the pressure?

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Most coaches abhor what they consider distractions, those vague, murky factors that get in the way of focus and concentration. But this year, in these circumstances? Gonzaga’s Mark Few almost considers some of them a blessing. “Much to my chagrin, and I hate to admit this, but the fact that (his players) are always messing around on their phones and playing video games, I think it’s insulated them from a lot of stuff that’s going out there, being talked about,” he said. “It might be the one instance where I’m actually happy they have all that stuff.” What’s being talked about, of course, is history. Gonzaga is 30-0 and two victories away from being the first undefeated men’s basketball national champion since Indiana in 1976. That could be a burden, a heap of pressure and expectation that grows with each victory. If so, the Zags have laughed it off. They’ve had a single-digit margin of victory only once all season, against West Virginia on Dec. 2. They were threatened by BYU in the West Coast Conference Tournament championship game, trailing by 12 at halftime, and outscored the Cougars 47-25 in the second half to win by 10. The farther they’ve advanced in the NCAA Tournament, the more efficient they’ve seemed to become. If their players were bothered by expectations they didn’t show it at all in Tuesday’s West Regional final against USC. They ran up a 21-8 lead in the opening 7-1/2 minutes and coasted to the finish against a team that, with its size, was supposed to be the most significant threat to the clean sheet. Gonzaga’s players seemed loose, free and unburdened, and the Trojans were the ones who looked tight and tense. Now the Bulldogs get UCLA on Saturday evening, and Few has an idea of what to expect. “We know we’re in for a real rock fight of a game,” he said Friday. Can the will, determination and stubbornness that has carried the Bruins this far overcome the talent of the No. 1 overall seed? Gonzaga has three All-Americans in its starting lineu...
ocregister.com     Apr 03, 2021