The Gonzaga Zags traveled the furthest distance of any team in this year’s Old Spice Classic. While the Zags captured the title, they also captured a new fan base. For years, the once-overachievers were considered the NCAA tournament’s Cinderella team. Well, Cinderella delivered her slippers back to Walt Disney’s World.
If you still don’t think the Zags have arrived, just read what Tennessee Coach Bruce Pearl had to say about the team:
“I think you’ll see teams in November like Gonzaga that are just ahead of everybody because of their experience. They’re so well-coached, they’re so focused, and they play with a purpose. I think the game a year ago…they used that to their advantage in this case. We played as well as we could play a year ago. We played awfully hard. Well tonight, they probably played with a high energy level in key points of the game, when the game was being decided. (Gonzaga Head Coach) Mark Few has got his team a little further along than I have my team. We got it handed to us. Gonzaga is clearly better than us right now.”
I decided to take an exit poll of a few neutral fans at the Classic to get their reactions:
SLAM: What did you think of the tournament?
Fan 1: The tournament was great for basketball fans across the country. We are basically in SEC country and rarely see some of these teams. That Gonzaga team is really good.
Fan 2: I’m here with my husband, and I really wanted to see that Gonzaga team. I’m not a big basketball fan, but I’ve always picked Gonzaga (in my office pool) during the NCAA tournament. Simply because I like that name: Gonzaga. It’s a nice name, so I pick them.
Gonzaga is expected to enter the Top 10 in this week’s poll following their three wins at Disney. A trip that saw them remove their Cinderella status and return the glass slippers to their rightful owner. If they have played this well with slippers, just imagine how good they will be playing in their Nike. Smart money is on the Zags come March and April.
The Third Place game featured two schools located just miles apart—Georgetown and Maryland. Both schools’ fans came in large numbers. From the pre-game warm-ups, the animosity was evident. The fans went at each other on countless occasions, and the players did the same; although, both acknowledged their mutual respect.
Georgetown guard Jesse Sapp: It was emotional. I mean, we might not show it now, but it was an emotional game for us. Those guys play hard. I think that we just did a good job doing what we usually so, you know like coach said, it was our friends so it was kind of a bragging right type of us. We didn’t look at then as friends once we get on the floor.”
Maryland Coach Gary Williams (On the history/rivalry with Georgetown): You know, it’s there, we played against them in 2001 was the last time, we played hem in ‘93 or ‘94 at their place, then we played then tonight. I think we’re both proven program, playing in the two great conferences, there’s a lot of things you have to do with your schedule, so it’s just the way it is.”
This rivalry will continue on the hardwood, not just in the stands.