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Gonzaga returns to AP rankings at No. 23 ahead of WCC finale against No. 17 Saint Mary's

Feb. 26—Following a run of 143 consecutive appearances in the Associated Press Top 25, Gonzaga made sure its stint outside of the national poll wouldn't last nearly as long.

The Bulldogs returned to a familiar place on Monday , checking in at No. 23 in the AP rankings after a West Coast Conference sweep of Portland and Santa Clara.

It is Gonzaga's first appearance in the poll since dropping out on Jan. 11 following a 77-76 road loss to Santa Clara. Prior to that, the Bulldogs had been ranked every week since March 14, 2016.

Gonzaga's return to the poll adds more intrigue to Saturday's WCC showdown with rival Saint Mary's. Neither was ranked when the teams met in Spokane on Feb. 3, but the regular-season finale in Moraga, California, will pit the 23rd-ranked Zags against the 17th-ranked Gaels. Saint Mary's moved up one spot in the poll after beating San Francisco and San Diego.

After splitting two games in the desert, Washington State, which beat No. 4 Arizona on Thursday before losing to unranked Arizona State on Saturday, climbed two spots to No. 19 in the Top 25.

The Cougars and Zags haven't appeared in the same poll since March 17, 2008, when WSU was ranked No. 21 and Gonzaga was No. 24.

Arizona, coached by former GU assistant Tommy Lloyd, dropped two spots to No. 6 on Monday after Thursday's home loss to WSU.

Gonzaga's return to the AP poll isn't insignificant, but probably is not as important as the Bulldogs' placement in the NCAA NET rankings that will be used on March 17 to help select and seed teams for the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga is up to No. 21 in the NET as it prepares for two crucial WCC games this week in the Bay Area that will both qualify as Quad 1 opportunities. The Bulldogs, who currently own a 1-5 record in Quad 1 games, visit San Francisco (No. 57 in NET) at the Chase Center on Thursday before Saturday's game at Saint Mary's (No. 15).

Bracketology experts seem to think the Zags are in decent shape to earn an at-large NCAA berth if they don't win the West Coast Conference Tournament, but that could change with a loss in either, or both, of GU's road games this week.

The latest breakdown from ESPN's Joe Lunardi has Gonzaga hanging on, but just barely as the fourth team listed among his "Last Four In."

Jerry Palm of CBS Sports has Gonzaga slotted in as a No. 11 seed and projects the Bulldogs will face off with No. 11 Ole Miss in a First Four game.

Gonzaga also made a return to the USA Today Coaches Poll, checking in at No. 22 on Monday. Saint Mary's is No. 17 in the Coaches Poll, and Washington State is No. 21 .