Rout Madness

Crazy handstand man Mark Few need not fear Duke — or even Kentucky: Gonzaga's Polish big man lessons rock

Crazy handstand master Mark Few & Gonzaga do not fear Duke or Kentucky

Kyle Wiltjer Gonzaga
Kyle Wiltjer knows Gonzaga has a real Final Four chance this year. Courtesy of Hoops Insider
Mark Few Gonzaga
Gonzaga coach Mark Few loves his handstands — and his chances in this NCAA Tournament. Courtesy of Hoops Insider
Kyle Wiltjer Gonzaga
Mark Few Gonzaga

Mark Few is finally showing some real personality, with an "unauthorized" locker room clip of him pulling off a celebration handstand making the 52-year-old longtime Gonzaga coach go viral in ways he never imagined.

Few actually ridiculously chided Kyle Wiltjer for tweeting out the video of his impressive handstand (as if bringing some joy to college basketball violates the sanctuary of the locker room or some other such garbage). But no worries. The fiftysomething Cirque du Soleil coach and the Zags continue to flip on.

No. 2 seed Gonzaga receives little trouble from UCLA in the opening game of the South Regional at NRG Stadium, easing to a 74-62 win.

"There might have been another handstand, but you'll never know a thing about it," Wiltjer cracks in Gonzaga's locker room. 

Yes, the Zags are somehow still loose through the great handstand controversy. And now they're playing for a historic berth in the Final Four. This UCLA game's hardly a beauty for a usually much more offensively efficient Gonzaga. But it showcases just how skilled and dangerous Few's team truly is.

The Zags are somehow still loose through the great handstand controversy. And now they're playing for a historic berth in the Final Four.

This 35-2 Gonzaga team need not fear anyone. Certainly not Duke in the Regional Final on Sunday afternoon. Maybe not even Kentucky. (OK, everyone needs to fear Kentucky as West Virginia learned, but these Zags have as good a shot at hanging with John Calipari's giant as anyone).

This is the best Gonzaga team that Few has ever had. The 35 wins are the most in school history. The only losses are a three-point setback in overtime at Top 5 Arizona and a three-point stumble against BYU.

More importantly, Few has the type of talent that could play anywhere. Wiltjer is talented enough to have begun his career at Kentucky as one of John Calipari's chosen ones. Point guard Kevin Pangos has been called a Baby Steve Nash (OK, the designation's more than a little ridiculous, but it does show how far this Canadian has come). Domantas Sabonis is impossibly skilled for a big man. And Przemek Karnowski is impossibly big (7-foot-1, 290 pounds) and skilled.

Karnowski's behind-the-back bounce pass in the midst of Gonzaga's pull-away second half run is a thing of serious big man beauty.

"For Karn to throw that behind-the-back pass is pretty sweet," Wiltjer says.

 "For Karn to throw that behind-the-back pass is pretty sweet," Wiltjer says. 

It shows just how diverse the behemoth from Poland is. Against UCLA, Karnowski is the best player on the floor, racking up 18 points (on 8 of 11 shooting), nine rebounds, two blocks and that show-stopping pass to fellow big man Sabonis.

"We've seen him do it before," Gonzaga guard Gary Bell Jr. says. "He had one against San Diego. And he does it in practice. He's a very willing passer. And he's got that skill."

It's this type of skill that makes the Zags so dangerous. Even when no jumpers are falling in cavernous NRG.

"We feed off each other," Wiltjer says. "When one of us does something like that, we all get excited. It raises all of our games."

There is absolutely no reason that raise cannot reach Final Four heights now.

Gonzaga shed its underdog, Cinderella ways long ago. But the Zags are still looking for that signature Final Four breakthrough — 17 straight NCAA Tournament appearances into their run. Especially after getting an offensive clunker out of their system — and still scoring 74 points.

"It just shows how we can win in all types of different ways," Wiltjer says.

The expected offensive fireworks never happen against UCLA. Two teams that combined for 151 points in Gonzaga's December win, come out clanking. UCLA starts 5 for 17. Gonzaga opens on a 5-for-19 clip.

The "smaller" black-curtained-off NRG Stadium does not seem to be helping the shooters after all. Still, Gonzaga steadily builds its lead. There will be no drama, no Madness on this March night in Texas.

UCLA coach Steve Alford and his usually sharpshooting son Bryce Alford (3 for 11 against Gonzaga after 12-for-16 3-pointer marksmanship in the Bruins first two tournament games) look dazed and confused. 

When Sabonis throws in sweeping hook shot with 9:25 left, it's a 53-37 Gonzaga lead and the Alfords might as well be planning for summer.

The Zags are planning for something else. A no fear breakthrough.

"Those guys are our biggest fans," Bell Jr. says of the Gonzaga stars past who came up short in NCAA Tournaments past. "They want us to get to the Final Four for them too — to finish what they started."

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