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3 Gonzaga Don't be surprised if this is the season the Zags zig their way to the Final Four

Is there any reason that Gonzaga--little old Gonzaga from the
West Coast Conference--can't win the national title? "I don't see
why not," says senior guard Blake Stepp, one of four returning
starters from a team that came thisclose to sinking Arizona in an
epic second-round NCAA tournament game last spring. "We have
enough talent, and everyone believes in one goal, which is to go
all the way and not lose our last game."

Folly, you say? Well, the Zags are loaded up front with senior
forward Cory Violette, a Wooden Award nominee, and junior forward
Ronny Turiaf, a member of the French national team who may be the
first player in Gonzaga history to go pro early. Add a backcourt
that includes 6'7" Washington transfer Erroll Knight (the state's
2001 Mr. Basketball) and Stepp (the reigning WCC Player of the
Year), and the possibilities are limitless. "We have a lot of
experience, and we can go 10 deep and not have too much of a
drop-off," says coach Mark Few. "Plus we can score in different
ways, which is good, because last year we depended way too much
on Blake."

Already adept at pushing the ball in transition, Stepp worked on
his lateral quickness over the summer to improve his on-the-ball
defense. It's part of a teamwide plan to cool down opponents,
whose shooting improved from 38.6% two years ago to 42.5% last
season. Says Stepp, "If we get back to the way we played defense
a couple years ago, we could give teams trouble."

Other questions: Can the Zags, who opened the season with a 73-66
loss to St. Joseph's on Nov. 14, handle a sick nonconference
schedule that includes Missouri, Maryland and Stanford? Can Stepp
minimize any conflicts that might arise on a team that has never
had so much competition for playing time? And perhaps most
important, will the NCAA tournament committee stop penalizing
Gonzaga with a lower-than-deserved seed for playing in the
RPI-killing WCC?

If the answers all turn out to be yes, then don't be surprised
when the Zags make it to the Final Four. --Grant Wahl


COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN COMING THROUGH Though the step-by-Stepp approach works, Gonzaga wants more balanced scoring this season.


2002-03 RECORD: 24-9 (12-2, 1st in West Coast)
TOURNAMENT: Lost to Arizona in 2nd round



SF Erroll Knight 6'7" So. 7.1 ppg*
PF Ronny Turiaf 6'10" Jr. 15.6 ppg
C Cory Violette[1] 6'8" Sr. 8.0 rpg
SG Tony Skinner[1] 6'5" Sr. 9.2 ppg
PG Blake Stepp[1] 6'4" Sr. 18.0 ppg

*2001-02 at Washington

an opposing coach's view

"It's the best team this school has ever had.... BLAKE STEPP is
very smart and can shoot it off the catch and dribble going
either way. You can't give him anything in transition. Can he
guard other top 10 point guards? Maybe not one-on-one, but he's a
winner.... RONNY TURIAF has gotten so much better. He's an
incredible athlete and is relentless going to the glass, but he's
foul prone.... CORY VIOLETTE is so powerful, and he can score
with his back to the basket and shoot the three.... ERROL KNIGHT
has a pro body, and the coaches think he has more raw ability
than anyone they've ever had. But will he be able to shoot from
the perimeter?"


Assists needed at the start of the season by senior Blake Stepp
to pass John Stockton for second on the Zags' career list, with