Preview: Gonzaga vs. Southern

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Gonzaga celebrates its first 1 seed in program history with a second-round West Regional game against 16th-seeded Southern University on Thursday in Salt Lake City.

The Zags have won a school-record 31 games and are bullish about making a Final Four run after landing the top seed in the West. Gonzaga is making its 15th straight appearance, fourth-best nationally.

Southern is in the tourney for the eighth time, and the first since 2006.Southern earned its spot in the tournament by winning the Southwestern Athletic Conference tournament. The Jaguars downed Prairie View A&M in the championship game for their seventh win in eight games.

Zags feeling good about Thursday

Gonzaga has only won two NCAA tournament games once over the past six seasons so there is a bit of pressure for the Bulldogs to live up to their top-seed billing. Gonzaga has won 14 consecutive games and defeated Saint Mary’s in the championship game of the West Coast Conference tournament.

ABOUT GONZAGA (31-2): The Bulldogs’ only losses were to Illinois and Butler. Gonzaga was seldom tested during its conference schedule after having its usual array of early-season high-profile contests. Junior forward Kelly Olynyk was named the WCC Player of the Year after the athletic 7-footer averaged 17.5 points and 7.2 rebounds while shooting 65.2 percent from the field. Senior forward Elias Harris, a four-year standout, combines to make a fierce duo with Olynyk while averaging 14.9 points and 7.4 rebounds. Harris and sophomore guard Kevin Pangos (11.5 points, team-best 70 3-pointers) joined Olynyk on the WCC’s 10-member all-conference squad. Gonzaga has plenty of other contributors, including sophomore guard Gary Bell Jr. (9.2 points, 53 3-pointers) and junior center Sam Dower (7.2).

ABOUT SOUTHERN (23-9): The Jaguars scheduled road games against schools such as Iowa State, Nebraska, Wyoming, Tulane, Texas Christian and Texas A&M to ready themselves for a possible tough foe in case of cracking the NCAA field. Southern beat Texas A&M and lost to the other five. Senior guard Derick Beltran (15.9 points, 42 steals) and junior wing Malcolm Miller (15.8 points, six rebounds) carry the offense and both players earned all-SWAC honors. Senior center Brandon Moore provides a sturdy inside presence with 48 blocks to go with a team-best 7.1 rebounds. Backup senior center Madut Bol is the son of the late Manute Bol, the former shot blocker of NBA fame.

TIP-INS1. Gonzaga routed Southern 117-72 to open the 2010-11 season. Dower had 19 points for the Zags and Bol scored 12 for the Jaguars.2. The Bulldogs have won 12 games by double digits during their 14-game winning streak.3. The Jaguars have won one NCAA Tournament game – a stunning 93-78 upset of Georgia Tech in 1993.

PREDICTION: Gonzaga 95, Southern 61