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Gonzaga ranked No. 1

SPOKANE, Wash. — The to-do list for Gonzaga’s basketball team got shorter Monday: For the first time, the Zags were ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll.

Sweet, but it might get bumpier from there.

Next: Avoiding the potholes that have stopped every other No. 1 this season, then finding a way to the Final Four.

“It’s an honor that people would think this highly of all of us in the program,” coach Mark Few said in a statement Monday. “It’s great for the program, great for the school, great for the city of Spokane and the region and the entire Northwest.”

The Bulldogs, widely known as the Zags, will be in Las Vegas for the West Coast Conference tournament at Orleans Arena. The event begins Wednesday.

“We still have a lot more to accomplish starting this weekend in Las Vegas and moving forward to the NCAA Tournament,” said Few, who reportedly went fishing Monday. “We’re looking forward to the rest of the season and making it last as long as we can.”

The fact that Few would skip perhaps the biggest day in program history to go fishing says much about the priorities of the coach who helped build and has sustained Gonzaga’s success. Few repeatedly has said he enjoys the balance between work and family time that Gonzaga provides, a major reason he has not left for a bigger program.

Students celebrated the No. 1 ranking on the downtown campus Monday, and the food services department wheeled out a 20-foot cake that said “Congratulations Zags.”

Staying No. 1 has been tough this season, with Gonzaga the fifth school to hold the spot after replacing Indiana this week. The others were Duke, Louisville and Michigan.

“We don’t believe there is any jinx,” assistant coach Tommy Lloyd said Monday. “Obviously, it’s a dream for us, the ultimate accomplishment.”

Gonzaga, a small Jesuit school in Spokane, is where crooner Bing Crosby went and where John Stockton threaded pinpoint passes. It has the best record in Division I at 29-2 following weekend victories over Brigham Young and Portland. The Hoosiers, beaten by Minnesota last week, dropped to No. 2.

The Zags are the 57th school to be ranked No. 1 since the AP poll began in January 1949. The school is considered a mid-major and reached No. 2 for the first time last week. Now it will play for the first time at No. 1 on Saturday in the West Coast tournament semifinals.

The school received 51 first-place votes from the 65-member national media panel, 44 more than Indiana. Duke, winners over Miami after a loss to Virginia, remained third with five first-place votes.

Kansas and Georgetown both jumped two spots to fourth and fifth. The Hoyas received the other two first-place votes. Miami, Michigan, Louisville, Kansas State and Michigan State rounded out the top 10. Virginia Commonwealth and UCLA, both ranked earlier in the season, returned to the poll at 21st and 23rd, respectively.

Gonzaga’s rise to the top comes 14 years after the school burst onto the national scene with a surprise run to the final eight of the NCAA Tournament. Since then, Few has guided the Zags to 12 conference titles, 13 trips to the tournament and four trips to the round of 16.

Along the way, Gonzaga has produced a slew of NBA players, including Dan Dickau, Adam Morrison, Ronny Turiaf, Austin Daye, Robert Sacre and Jeremy Pargo. The team features players from Canada, France, Germany and Poland, along with Stockton’s son, David.

Kelly Olynyk, the 7-foot Canadian center, leads the team in scoring at nearly 18 points a game and averages seven rebounds. He calls the No. 1 ranking a “great milestone.”

“We have a special team this year,” he said. “It shows that college basketball in the rest of the country has a lot of respect for us.”

Olynyk never dreamed that he would be playing for the No. 1 team in the nation when he chose Gonzaga over other offers.

“It never even crossed my mind,” he said.

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