GLENDALE, Ariz. – It will be a natural move on Monday night for disappointed Oregon fans to root for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Both teams hail from the Pacific Northwest and there is a large Gonzaga fan base in Portland.
The Bulldogs also feature four playes and coaches from Oregon. That’s more than the Oregon Ducks squad, which has just one player or coach originally from Oregon.
Gonzaga guards Nigel Williams-Goss and Silas Melson grew up in the Portland area. Head coach Mark Few is from Creswell and assistant coach Brian Michaelson went to Jesuit High School in Beaverton.
“Anytime you can do something as special as playing in the Final Four and playing in the national championship game, especially coming from a small city like Happy Valley, it’s really cool,” said Williams-Goss, who was raised in Happy Valley before moving to Las Vegas to attend a prestigious prep school.
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Melson has been proudly representing his Portland roots all week in Glendale. He was boasting to reporters that his alma mater Jefferson High School won a championship this year and on Friday he sported a shirt that said “Portland.”
Oregon fans reciprocated the love on Saturday by cheering loudly for the Bulldogs during their matchup against the South Carolina Gamecocks.
“That’s all love,” Melson said. “I have the most respect for Oregon and I know they have respect for us just to get to this point. The Pacific Northwest gets overlooked every now and then. We believe that we’re just as good as anybody else in the country.”
No team from the western part of the country has won an NCAA basketball championship since Arizona in 1997. With Oregon out, the pressure to snap that streak now falls squarely on Gonzaga.
“It would be great for West Coast basketball for a West Coast team to get the championship back,” Williams-Goss said. “I had said before the tournament that if for whatever reason we didn’t win I would like to see Oregon win it. Obviously, they lost a close one last night so now it’s on us.”