As Gonzaga's reputation has grown and its seeds have improved, its postseason fortunes have declined. After going to the region semifinals for three consecutive seasons from 1999 to 2001, the third-seeded Bulldogs have not advanced past the second round of the NCAA tournament since.
With a formidable sixth-seeded Texas Tech awaiting today in Tucson in the second round, the pressure, at least externally, mounts for the Bulldogs to justify their loftier perch.
"Obviously, we want to advance and go as far as we can," Bulldogs Coach Mark Few said. "If you look around the country, I think our program has done well in the NCAA tournament. We've won games almost every year, and that's a great accomplishment. Each year is different."
After three seasons of seedings at 10th or worse, Gonzaga got its first big break in 2002 with a No. 6 seed -- which it felt was a slight -- and the disappointment began as Wyoming upset the Bulldogs. The past two seasons, losses came in the second round: in 2003, a double-overtime thriller against Arizona as a No. 9 seed; and last season another shocker, by 10th-seeded Nevada, over the second-seeded Bulldogs in Seattle. The disappointment of that loss lingers still.
"Last year, we were a number two seed and felt really good," forward Adam Morrison said. "People already had bought Sweet 16 tickets before we lost, so we felt really bad. Back in Spokane, people just looked at you differently. We just don't want that sick feeling again."
Other players are taking a more detached view.
"If your team plays hard and loses, that's what NCAA basketball is all about," forward Ronny Turiaf said. "We try our best, we want to play hard and go to the Sweet 16. If we win, we'll be happy, if we lose we'll go home and pout." . . .
Texas Tech Coach Bob Knight was less than pleased his Red Raiders' tip-off with Gonzaga at 11:10 a.m. Tucson time.
"Basketball should be played across the country no earlier than one o'clock," Knight said. "I don't know why we don't do that. It seems to me it's a disservice to the teams [not] to do that."
Knight revisited the topic a moment later during his news conference yesterday.
"It's a simple thing like practice," Knight said. "The practice structure should be between 1 o'clock and 5 o'clock, you get a half-hour on the floor. You shouldn't have teams practicing at 8 o'clock at night when they haven't eaten yet."
Nevada's Nick Fazekas hasn't been himself on the court lately.
The Western Athletic Conference player of the year has seen his scoring average drop and his field goal percentage plummet.
What's changed for the nation's No. 14 scorer? He's wearing a mask to protect a broken nose.