Gonzaga’s path to No. 1 ranking with Indiana loss

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The Bulldogs opened the season with nine straight wins, lost at home to Illinois, then reeled off eight more victories. They had a last-second defeat at Butler and since then have ripped off 10 wins in a row, never giving up more than 63 points in any of those games.

With teams above them in the poll losing left and right, the Zags moved steadily into the Top 10, then the Top 5 and finally last week reached No. 2. Their previous high ranking of No. 3 came the last two weeks of the 2003-04 season for a team that featured future NBA players Ronny Turiaf and Adam Morrison.

“It’s nice to move up and take advantage by winning,” Stockton said. “Otherwise we can’t control that stuff.”

The Zags have been fixtures on the AP Top 25 for more than a decade, but this year’s team seems different, at least to San Diego coach Bill Grier. Grier spent 16 years as an assistant at Gonzaga, helping build the program, before leaving five years ago.

He believes that more recent Gonzaga teams had such talented players that coaches just let them play, rather than pushing complicated offensive schemes.

“But this team can play fast, and they can slow it down and grind,” Grier said. “They’re patient when they need to be, and they get the ball right where they want it.

“More than any of their recent teams … this one really executes,” Grier said.

Gonzaga is often dismissed because its conference schedule is considered less than grueling. But, as usual, the Bulldogs make up for it with a brutal non-conference slate. Gonzaga this year owns wins over Kansas State (currently ranked No. 13), Oklahoma State (now No. 15), Baylor, Oklahoma, Clemson, West Virginia, Washington State and Davidson.

“We are 29 games into the year and we only have two losses, and they are quality losses,” Hart said. “That speaks for itself.”

Being No. 1 would bring its own problems. The top-ranked team in the poll has lost seven times this season. Three of those defeats were by Indiana, which fell 77-73 to Minnesota on Tuesday. The Hoosiers (24-4, 12-3) have held the No. 1 ranking for 10 of the 17 polls this season, including the past four.

After this week’s games, the Zags travel to the WCC tournament in Las Vegas, where archrival Saint Mary’s likely awaits them.

“Every next game is the most important game for us this year,” Hart said.

So do the Zags deserve their high ranking?

“You tell me, you’re the media guys,” Harris said. “Our job is to get in here and practice and work with the coaching staff to get better.

“That’s all we are worried about,” Harris said. “Whatever happens, happens.”

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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