In our view: No Surprise: Gonzaga No. 1

Bulldogs have been a basketball dynasty for more than a decade

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Do you know the origin of Gonzaga University’s name? We suspect this history question can be answered by few people in Southwest Washington other than students from here who attend the school 350 miles away, perhaps their parents and, of course, Gonzaga graduates in the area, including many attorneys.

The answer is provided below but for now, suffice it to say all of America is learning more about Gonzaga. For the first time in the school’s history, the Gonzaga Bulldogs are the No. 1 ranked college basketball team in the land. Not big, bad Indiana or Duke or Kansas or Georgetown. They merely round out the top five teams.

We tip our hats to Gonzaga for several reasons, starting with the belief that Gonzaga fans in this region are pretty much fed up with all the headlines devoted to Huskies, Cougars, Ducks, Beavers and other teams in Washington and Oregon. And because Gonzaga doesn’t compete in major college football, the chance to grab the spotlight only comes around so often for the Zags.

Fact is, Gonzaga has been making waves in college basketball for more than a decade, certainly in the 14 seasons during which Mark Few has served as head coach. So the Zags being No. 1 is not all that surprising to March Madness fans who have seen them climb this year from No. 21 to last week’s No. 2. In fact, Gonzaga was ranked No. 3 late in 2004, according to the Spokesman-Review in Spokane. But think about it: No. 1! In both the Associated Press and USA Today polls, grabbing 44 more first-place votes than Indiana in the first poll, and 29 out of a possible 31 first-place votes in the second poll. With a 29-2 record.

Skeptics might scoff: Sure, but let’s see how long they stay there as the season progresses. But the regular season already is over. The Bulldogs finished their home schedule Saturday with a 29-point victory over University of Portland. All that’s left is the West Coast Conference Tournament starting Wednesday (Saturday for Gonzaga) in Las Vegas, and then March Madness, one of the most widely followed sports spectacles in the country.

So, we’re impressed. We also like other things about the team, such as the diversity of the roster: nine players from outside the Pacific Northwest and five players from outside the United States.

Granted, there’s no guarantee Gonzaga can hold on to No. 1 through postseason play. “It’s a great number to have beside your name, but it’s nothing but a number,” said Kelly Olynyk, a 7-foot Bulldog junior from Kamloops, B.C.

A mighty impressive number, nevertheless. And, as Coach Few was quoted in a USA Today story: “These kids have been ranked their whole careers.” Indeed, this week has brought another brick in the pride wall built over many years to surround the Gonzaga basketball dynasty.

About that name origin: St. Aloysius Gonzaga was a 16th-century Italian Jesuit saint. Gonzaga University (then “College”) was founded in 1887 by Father Joseph Cataldo, also an Italian Jesuit saint. And a century and a quarter later, Gonzaga is No. 1 the first week of March.

Go Zags!