Next step is the big­gest one

Gon­zaga, Ari­zona have plenty to prove

The Denver Post - - SPORTS - By Josh Dubow

san jose, calif.» Get­ting to the sec­ond week­end of the NCAA Tour­na­ment is noth­ing new for Gon­zaga and Ari­zona.

The task this week­end for the Bull­dogs and Wild­cats will be try­ing to make it out of the West Re­gion and take that next step to the Fi­nal Four. The process starts Thurs­day when top-seeded Gon­zaga (34-1) faces No. 4 seed West Vir­ginia (28-8) and sec­ond-seeded Ari­zona (32-4) faces No. 11 seed Xavier (23-13).

“We’re in the spot­light now and we have to make the most of it,” Gon­zaga guard Jor­dan Mathews said.

This marks the third straight trip to the Sweet 16 for the Bull­dogs and fifth in seven years for the Wild­cats. But like the rest of their brethren based in the western United States, they haven’t made a Fi­nal Four in that span. Gon­zaga is look­ing for its first trip ever and Ari­zona seeks its first since 2001.

No western team has made it to the Fi­nal Four since UCLA had three straight trips from 2006-08. But with the top two seeds in San Jose, as well as Pac-12 con­tenders Ore­gon in the Mid­west Re­gion and UCLA in the South, this could be the year that drought ends.

“I just think some­times these things are cycli­cal,” Gon­zaga coach Mark Few said. “I think if you kind of re­ally, you know, drill it down a lit­tle bit, the teams are a lit­tle bit older and ex­pe­ri­enced.”

Ari­zona coach Sean Miller has a national view, hav­ing played at Pitts­burgh in the 1980s and coached in the East and Mid­west be­fore ar­riv­ing at Ari­zona in 2009. He said there was lit­tle dif­fer­ence in the qual­ity or type of play­ers from dif­fer­ent parts of the coun­try.

Any doubts of the tal­ent out West should have been put to rest by the five Pac-12 play­ers in the NBA All-Star Game last month.

“The Pac-12 does not get enough credit for the amaz­ing amount of tal­ent that has gone through here,” Miller said.

Pac-12 deputy com­mis­sioner Jamie Zani­novich, who pre­vi­ously ran the West Coast Con­fer­ence, cred­ited coach­ing con­ti­nu­ity that has helped keep West Coast tal­ent home and bet­ter ex­po­sure from tele­vi­sion deals that have put more games from both con­fer­ences on ESPN’s plat­forms.

“We’re see­ing the fruits of that la­bor now,” Zani­novich said. “There’s still work to be done. We have three in the Sweet 16. Now we have to get one to the Fi­nal Four. It’s been a while now.”

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