Ten things you need to know about Gonzaga University to better appreciate its first appearance in the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship Monday night against North Carolina.
1. Gonzaga is a Jesuit institution in Spokane, Wash., named for a 16th century Italian, Aloysius Gonzaga, who forsook his aristocratic background to become a Jesuit and died at 23 while caring for victims of a plague. He was canonized in 1726. An Italian missionary founded the school in 1887 to educate the native population.
2. It’s pronounced Gon-ZAG-a, not Gon-ZAH-ga, which, coming from Methuen, a little town 28 miles north of Boston, is how I pronounced it for years.
3. Nobody outside of Spokane ever heard of Gonzaga until the Utah Jazz drafted John Stockton in 1984. All he did was become one of the best point guards in NBA history and a member of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He is the ultimate Zag, having attended elementary school at St. Aloysius and high school at Gonzaga Prep before enrolling at Gonzaga University in 1980.
4. Bing Crosby, the singer, actor and pre-eminent entertainer of the 20th century, was another Gonzaga “alum”, but as the star of the motion pictures Going My Way and The Bells of St. Mary’s he played an Irish Catholic priest in New York City, not Spokane. What’s up with that? He left Gonzaga after three years in 1923 without a degree but returned in 1937 to receive an honorary doctorate.
5. Gonzaga made its first appearance in the NCAA Tournament in 1995. Maryland won that first-round contest, 87-63. The Zags also lost in the first round in 2002 to Wyoming, 2007 to Indiana and 2008 to Davidson.
6. In 1999 Gonzaga reached the Elite Eight and lost to Connecticut, 67-62. The Zags reached the Elite Eight again in 2015 and lost to Duke, 66-52. This is Gonzaga’s first Final Four.
7. Providence College was thrilled to earn an NCAA bid last month for the fourth consecutive season, a program first. This is Gonzaga’s 19th consecutive NCAA appearance, tied for sixth in NCAA history with Wisconsin.
8. Gonzaga plays in the West Coast Conference. Can you name another WCC school? Give up? Try BYU, Loyola Marymount, Pacific, Pepperdine, Portland, St. Mary’s, San Diego, San Francisco and Santa Clara.
9. Gonzaga has won 15 WCC championships since 1998. The Zags won their first league title in 1995.
10. Gonzaga is 37-1, the loss coming to BYU on Feb. 25. UNC is 32-7. Do the Zags belong in the title game? Absolutely. Can they win? Sure. Will they? Yes!