The Zags (25-6) simply don’t get the chance to face many opponents that will embrace a grinding style in the West Coast Conference, according to Sacre and head coach Mark Few. But both said this particular Bulldogs team has the ingredients to fare well in such a battle.
“It's a different style on the West Coast,” said Sacre, who averages 11.7 points, 6.3 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game and was named the WCC defensive player of the year. “But I think when you go against West Virginia, it's more physical. I think just in the Big East, you look at the Big East teams, they're very physical, very strong inside. It's much of a power game.
“I think we're very excited to see that. We haven't seen that in a while. Nothing against the WCC, but it's a different style. I think we're just really excited to see a physical team like West Virginia.”
Indeed, while Few’s Bulldogs teams of years past have made their mark with guard play and complimentary pieces on the wings and in the interior, this one is a bit different.
Perhaps that is because of the youth of Gonzaga’s backcourt. Starting guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr., are both freshmen -- though each has embraced their opportunity, averaging 13.8 and 10.0 points per game, respectively.
“We've played physical teams this year and done pretty well,” Few noted. “And I think if I was to pick a style, you know, from finesse being one, physical being the other, we're far better if we're playing over here on this [physical] side of the continuum.”
To play that style against the Mountaineers (19-13), the Zags will try to do something few WVU opponents have managed to do all season: stop Kevin Jones, or at least slow him down.
West Virginia’s senior leader, averaging 20.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game, was named to the National Association of Basketball Coaches’ District 5 first-team on Wednesday. He was clearly the player who jumped out when Few and his players watched film of the Mountaineers.
So Sacre was asked: how do you keep Jones off the offensive glass?
“By any means necessary,” the senior center said. “Keep him off the glass. Keep boxing them out. He has a great talent of finding the ball, locating the ball whenever it goes off the rim. So you’ve just got to make sure that you keep a body on him at all times, be physical with him.
“I think we have a great game plan for him. I'm not too worried about it. I know he's going to come out and play his style of basketball. We'll be ready. We’ve just got to play our game, be physical and match their intensity.”
Few was asked if he would describe his friendship with WVU coach Bob Huggins as a “bromance” -- drawing a few laughs from the reporters in the room as Few tried to discern just what the word meant.
“All I can tell you is he's a great guy,” Few said. “He's a guy's guy. He's a great guy. He's always treated me great.
“I think he's one of the real characters left in college basketball that just isn't afraid to say what's on his mind. He's the same way on the court, off the court, in front of you guys. I think that's a real neat quality to have. I think when it's all said and done, when you look back at everything he's done, I mean, he's got Hall of Fame-type credentials. Big fan of his.”
The Gonzaga beat reporters hammered away at one of the storylines of this game: the fact that the Bulldogs, despite being the No. 7 seed in the East Regional, were sent more than 2,000 miles from their campus to play a No. 10 seed only 70 miles from its home.
Players and Few alike tried to downplay the disadvantages.
“The neat thing we have this year is we have a bunch of young guys, and they're new to college basketball. They're excited for everything,” Few said of his team’s reaction on Selection Sunday. “You know, we were excited that our name popped up there once again and saw the matchup. We knew we were going to play somebody good. Lo and behold, we are playing somebody good. I don't think really anybody looked at the logistics and all that until a little bit after.”
Pangos, for his part, said the Zags would treat the matchup “as an away game.”
Gonzaga may be like West Virginia in that both teams are quite young for NCAA Tournament squads, a fact that Few noted.
“This is easily the youngest team I've ever brought into a [NCAA] Tournament,” Few said. “But, you know, this team shoots the ball -- or can shoot the ball -- extremely well. It’s probably one of the more balanced teams we've had.
“We can score, double-figure score, at a variety of positions. I mean ... we can grind it out, hopefully, if we have to, and we like to play fast, too. We’re pretty versatile in that way.”