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Second seed has served 'underdog' Gonzaga well at WCC Tournament

Mar. 6—Gonzaga's experience as a No. 2 seed in the West Coast Conference Tournament ranges from the first tourney in 1987 — that didn't go well — to last year's event in Las Vegas — that did go well.

The Zags, who finished a game behind Saint Mary's in the WCC standings, don't seem to mind the underdog label or wearing their navy blue or black uniforms at the conference tournament, but it hasn't happened all that often. Counting the upcoming tourney at Orleans Arena, which begins for second-seeded Gonzaga in Monday's semifinals, the Zags have been the top seed 18 times and the No. 2 seed seven times in head coach Mark Few's 25 years.

GU has a 93.3% winning percentage as a No. 2 seed compared to 90.2% as a No. 1 seed (37-4) under Few.

Gonzaga is 14-1 as a No. 2 seed with Few at the helm with the lone loss coming to top-seeded Saint Mary's 78-74 in an overtime thriller in the 2012 title game. Mike Hart hit a 3-pointer to force overtime, but the Gaels made six late free throws, four by tournament MVP Matthew Dellavedova, in the extra session to claim the crown.

"It's pretty special," Dellavedova said. "Gonzaga has dominated it for a long time. We really wanted the conference outright, and once we did that we wanted the tournament."

GU's five other appearances under Few as a second seed: 13-0 record and five championship trophies, including titles in 2000 (Few's first year) and 2002 over No. 1 Pepperdine that helped establish the foundation of the program's 24 consecutive trips to March Madness.

The most recent Gonzaga title came last March. Gonzaga and Saint Mary's shared the regular-season title after splitting two meetings and both lost once to Loyola Marymount. The Gaels were designated the No. 1 seed due to a higher NET ranking. The Zags clobbered Saint Mary's 77-51 in the championship game.

"Wearing the blue jerseys, we don't really know what that feels like in this tournament," said Drew Timme, who passed Frank Burgess as Gonzaga's all-time leading scorer and was named tournament MVP. "It's nice, it's obviously a nice lighter fluid to the fire."

Gonzaga also captured championships over top-seeded Saint Mary's in 2016 and 2011. The Zags were 11 seeds both years in the NCAA Tournament, a strong indication they probably weren't going to be in the field without the WCC's automatic bid.

The 2016 Zags outlasted BYU 88-84 in the semifinals and pulled away from the Gaels 85-75 in the final behind Eric McClellan, who scored 17 of his 20 points in the second half.

"This group, what we had to go through with all the adversity, the sky is falling stuff, to be able to power through, stay positive and get it done makes this one really special," Few said.

Gonzaga held off San Francisco 71-67 in the 2011 semifinals, thanks to Marquise Carter's seven free throws in the final 43 seconds. Steven Gray had 15 points and Rob Sacre added 12 points, eight boards and four blocks in GU's 75-63 title-game victory over the Gaels.

"Oh my goodness, we've been through so many battles this year and everyone doubted us, but I'm so proud of our guys," Sacre said. "And it's not over, that's the best part."

Since the tournament moved to Las Vegas in 2009, Gonzaga's record is 32-3, including 24-2 as a No. 1 seed and 8-1 as a No. 2. The Zags' two title-game losses as the top seed were against No. 2 Saint Mary's in 2010 and 2019.

The top two seeds in 2002 were determined by a coin flip, won by Pepperdine. GU beat No. 1 Pepperdine 96-90 at San Diego as tourney MVP Dan Dickau scored 27 of his 29 points in the second half. In 2000, the Zags knocked off the Waves 69-65 in overtime in Santa Clara. MVP Casey Calvary averaged 21.3 points in three GU wins.

"And we're back, baby, we're back,"' senior point guard Matt Santangelo shouted while embracing Few. "He (Calvary) was the man."

It took awhile for the Zags to warm up to being a No. 2 seed. In the inaugural WCC Tournament, No. 2 Gonzaga fell to seventh-seeded Pepperdine 76-73 in the opener in San Francisco.

GU went 1-1 in the 1993 tournament, downing Portland before falling to third-seeded Santa Clara 53-51 in the semifinals. The Zags went 2-1 in 1996, falling to No. 5 Portland 76-68 in the championship game at Santa Clara.

Gonzaga is 17-4 overall in nine WCC Tournament appearances as a No. 2 seed.