Gonzaga Bulldogs: An Underdog team for the Ages

Mark Few, Gonzaga Bulldogs. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)
Mark Few, Gonzaga Bulldogs. (Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images) /
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Gonzaga Bulldogs
Blake Stepp, Gonzaga Bulldogs. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) /

The beginning, 1999-2002 seasons

The original Cinderella story in which I fondly remember begins with the 1998-99 Gonzaga Bulldogs team. That team reached the “Elite Eight” losing to eventual NCAA champions the UConn Huskies by five points. That fairy tale was led by juniors Matt Santangelo, Richie Frahm, and sophomore Casey Calvary.

The next season, 1999-2000, those same players reached their second Sweet Sixteen, beating the likes of the Louisville Cardinals and the St John Red Storm. The Zags may have had the same players, but they were led by a 37-year-old, first-year head coach. Mark Few took over for Dan Monson, who took the Minnesota job.

An underdog coach to lead an underdog team. Then again, isn’t that part of a dynasty? Not only does the program thrive with different players, but different men in charge as well. Something to consider.

The 2000-01 team won their third straight WCC tournament and reached their third consecutive Sweet Sixteen as a number 12 seed. That underdog team was led by senior Casey Calvary, junior transfer Dan Dickau and freshman Blake Stepp.

In 2001-02, Gonzaga won their fourth straight WCC title and earned an automatic bid to their fourth straight NCAA tournament. That year they lost in the first round to the Wyoming Cowboys. Again, this team was led by Dickau, Stepp, and star freshman Ronny Turiaf.  Was this just another version of Cinderella when the clock struck 12 or was this the beginning of the many dynasties yet to come?