The last time Gonzaga played in the Old Spice Classic, it walked away as tournament champion.
As the only ranked team in this year's field, the No. 17 Bulldogs begin their quest for another tournament title Thursday night against Clemson in suburban Orlando.
Behind current Cleveland Cavaliers guard Jeremy Pargo, Gonzaga beat Oklahoma State, Maryland and then-No. 12 Tennessee to win the 2008 Old Spice Classic at Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex. That was the program's only previous trip to this event.
After barely being tested in their first three contests this season, the Bulldogs (3-0) are the favorites in a field that also includes West Virginia, Vanderbilt, Davidson and Oklahoma. No other team at this tournament received a vote in this week's AP poll.
"We just need to go out every night and play as hard as we can, it doesn't matter who we face," said senior Elias Harris, who had 16 points and 18 rebounds in Sunday's 96-58 win over South Dakota.
Gonzaga has shot 54.3 percent while averaging 94.3 points. Its most impressive win was an 84-50 rout of the Mountaineers, who could face the Bulldogs again in Sunday's championship game. Six Gonzaga players are averaging at least 11.0 points, led by 7-foot-1 Polish reserve Przemek Karnowski at 16.0 per game.
"They're really good, with great size," South Dakota coach Dave Boots said.
Karnowski, a freshman, scored 20 points in 19 minutes against South Dakota, but coach Mark Few knows the key to his team's success depends on the play of Harris and the backcourt of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr.
Bell and Pangos are each 6 of 13 from 3-point range while Harris continues to solidify his presence in the paint, averaging 13.0 points and 10.7 boards.
"Just go out and have fun, come out with lots of energy, attack the boards and grab as many boards as I can," Harris said.
He hopes to do the same Thursday when Gonzaga faces Clemson (2-0) for the first time since the Bulldogs upset the fifth-ranked Tigers 84-71 in double-overtime at the 1997 Top of the World Classic in Alaska.
After beating Presbyterian and Furman by a combined 50 points, the Tigers face their first true test in the tournament opener. Senior big man Devin Booker averages a team-leading 13.0 points, but Clemson coach Brad Brownell hopes to see some continued balance after eight players averaged at least 5.5 points through the first two contests.
"That's probably going to be the recipe for our team this year," he told Clemson's official website. "I don't know that we have a lot of potent guys that are ready to have big nights. I believe it's going to be a bunch of guys getting eight, 10, 12 points when we're playing well."
The winner of this contest faces either UTEP or Oklahoma in Friday's semifinals.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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