For all their wins, the Bulldogs have not reached the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament since 2009. That fact has created a drive for Pangos and his teammates to finally end the string of early departures.
“There is a process of what it takes along the way, to focus on what it takes to win that one game,” Pangos said. “It’s not in my mind. My mind is what we have to do.”
There may not be a better chance for the second-seeded Bulldogs (33-2) to reach the Sweet 16 than Sunday’s matchup with No. 7 seed Iowa, playing essentially a home game just four hours from campus in an arena where they’re comfortable. Start time is slated for 4:10 p.m. at KeyArena.
Five straight years Gonzaga has exited the tournament in the round of 32. It has reached the second weekend only twice in the last 14 tournaments.
Being at this stage is familiar for the Bulldogs. And so is the disappointment that followed.
The Bulldogs haven’t always been handed the easiest round of 32 assignments since last reaching the Sweet 16 in 2009. Only once during this five-year run was Gonzaga the higher seed.
Twice they were knocked out by No. 1 seeds: Syracuse in 2010 and Arizona in 2014. Second-seeded Ohio State eliminated the Bulldogs in 2012 and a year earlier it was No. 3 BYU. The one that sticks out the most is two years ago when Gonzaga was a No. 1 seed and got knocked out by ninth-seeded Wichita State as the Shockers made a surprising run to the Final Four.
Ultimately, for Gonzaga’s stature nationally, it’s more than just getting to the second weekend. It was 16 years ago when Gonzaga burst onto the national scene with an unlikely run to a regional final. The Bulldogs have not been back to the Elite Eight since and waiting in the round of 16 is No. 11 seed UCLA, a team Gonzaga beat 87-74 in Los Angeles in December.
That’s all in the bigger picture. The more immediate worry is the trouble Iowa (22-11) can cause with size and athleticism that matches Gonzaga’s at nearly every position.
“We haven’t seen size like this in any of our non-league games or anything. This is a really, really long team,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “When we’re on offense, it’s going to be interesting to see how our guys adjust to that.”
No team among the four winners in Seattle on Friday was more impressive than Iowa with its 83-52 blowout of Davidson. Aaron White displayed his explosiveness as a scorer with 17 of his 26 points coming in a seven-minute span of the second half.
The Hawkeyes understand they will essentially be playing a road game. That’s not necessarily a bad thing for Iowa, with wins this season at North Carolina, Ohio State and Michigan.
“It still comes down to what happens when you take the floor,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “Do you take care of the ball, do you move the ball, do you get good shots, can you rebound with this team?”
Here are other things to watch for as the schools meet for just the third time:
WILTJER WHITE: No, that’s not an unknown character from “Breaking Bad.” While they may not always match up against each other, the showdown between Iowa’s White and Gonzaga’s Kyle Wiltjer will be one to watch.
They’re both power forwards with the skills of a guard. Wiltjer is more of a pure shooter, while White excels at working off the ball and getting his points through movement. Both can go inside and work on the low block with success.
CHOOSING TEMPO: Iowa can play fast offensively. It’s one of eight teams in the round of 64 to top 80 points. But getting into a track meet with Gonzaga might be risky. The Bulldogs averaged 79 points for the season and topped 80 points 19 times.
“Nothing would change for us in terms of what have we try to do,” McCaffery said. “We try to score in the 80s every game if we can.”
IOWA’S STREAK: While most of the attention is on whether Gonzaga can finally get back to a Sweet 16, Iowa has its own second-weekend drought. The Hawkeyes last played in the round of 16 in 1999. The victory over Davidson was Iowa’s first tourney win since 2001.