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Jim Meehan | The Spokesman-Review | January 31, 2017

Gonzaga all smiles after its No. 1 ranking

  Gonzaga, the nation's last unbeaten, was rewarded with a No. 1 ranking.

For all the debate over the weekend about the possibility of Gonzaga reaching No. 1, the voting turned out like so many Zags games this season: It wasn't all that close.

Gonzaga moved up to No. 1 Monday in the AP and USA TODAY polls, and all it took was the Zags' unprecedented 22-0 start and stumbles by power conference teams last week when upsets rocked the top 10.

"Sounds good man," sophomore guard Josh Perkins said. "I woke up this morning with a smile on my face and it's been there ever since."

Gonzaga, ranked third last week, earned 46 of the 65 first-place votes and 1,594 points in the AP Top 25. Baylor was second with six first-place votes and 1,504 points. No. 3 Kansas picked up nine first-place votes and 1,503 points, followed by former No. 1 Villanova with four first-place votes and 1,479 points. Arizona is No. 5.

RELATED: AP rankings reaction

The Zags received 24 of 32 first-place votes and 785 points, 36 more than Kansas in the USA Today rankings. The Jayhawks, who were No. 1 last week, had seven first-place votes. Baylor is No. 3, followed by Villanova and Arizona.

The path to the top opened up when Villanova and Kansas dropped games last Tuesday. The Wildcats and Jayhawks both rebounded with top-10 wins over Virginia and Kentucky, respectively, prompting some to suggest they would stay in front of Gonzaga in the polls.

"Our resume is pretty strong, when you have three top 25 wins, six or seven top 50s," coach Mark Few said. "I wouldn't have had a problem if Kansas or Villanova were No. 1. Baylor is really good, Virginia. You could make an argument for a lot of these teams."

Seven of last week's AP top 10 absorbed losses last week, including Villanova, Kansas, Kentucky (two), Florida State (two), UCLA, North Carolina and Oregon.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga went 3-0 last week, crushing Portland 83-64, San Diego 79-43 and Pepperdine 96-49. The Zags have won 14 straight games and 19 of 22 overall by double-digit margins. Their 22-game winning streak matches the 2015 Zags for the longest in program history.

RELATED: Behind the numbers of the AP Top 25

The Zags reached No. 1 for the first time in program history in March 2013 at the conclusion of the regular season. The Zags stayed No. 1 in the next two polls before losing to Wichita State 76-70 in the Round of 32 of the NCAA tournament.

Gonzaga has wins over three teams currently ranked: Arizona, Saint Mary's (Calif.) and Florida. The Zags also defeated then-No. 21 Iowa State in Orlando and they handled Akron, which is receiving votes in both polls.

Now, how long can the Zags stay on top? Gonzaga, the only unbeaten team left in Division I, is entering the toughest portion of its WCC schedule. The Zags visit third-place BYU (16-7, 7-3 WCC) on Thursday before entertaining fourth-place Santa Clara (12-11, 6-4) on Saturday.

Opponents will carry more motivation with Gonzaga's rise to the top of the polls.

"[The target] definitely grows when you have that No. 1 by your name," guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. "I think you've seen that throughout the country. Other teams that have been No. 1, people really come out and gave them a run for them money."

Gonzaga visits Loyola Marymount (10-11, 3-7) and Saint Mary's (19-2, 9-1) next week. The Gaels are No. 18 in AP, No. 19 in the coaches' poll.

The teams right behind Gonzaga also face difficult weeks. Kansas entertains Baylor on Wednesday and Iowa State, which received one vote in the AP poll, on Saturday. Kansas State, which received one vote in the coaches' poll, visits Baylor on Saturday.

Villanova tangles with Big East foes Providence and St. John's. Arizona has road dates with Oregon State on Thursday and No. 13 Oregon on Saturday.

Gonzaga becomes the fifth different school to be ranked No. 1 this season, joining Duke, Kentucky, Villanova and Baylor. The Zags are the only team ever from the state of Washington to be ranked No. 1. The last WCC team other than Gonzaga to be No. 1 was Bill Cartwright-led San Francisco in 1977.

The Zags were No. 14 in the AP preseason poll and 13th in USA TODAY.

This article is written by Jim Meehan from The Spokesman-Review and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.


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