DENVER -- The Gonzaga Bulldogs sounded excited and confident on Wednesday evening, meeting with the media prior to their NCAA tournament opener against St. John's on Thursday.
"I think we match up just as good as any team," said 7-foot center Robert Sacre, the team's second-leading scorer (12.5 ppg). "They're a great team. They're a feisty team. We know that because they battled in the Big East, so we have to respect them that way. I think we match up just fine and we're excited to play them."
"I think, you know, it's going to be a completely different look from anything we faced in our conference play," said 6-foot-5 guard Steven Gray, the team's leading scorer (13.8 ppg). [They're] athletic, force a lot of turnovers, really get out in transition. But, you know, I think we match up pretty well. We got some bigs who have really been playing well as of late. As long as we do the things that we do well -- defend, get inside -- I think it will be a good matchup for us."
St. John's coach Steve Lavin called Gonzaga "as gifted a team as we have faced all year offensively." But the Bulldogs are also strong defensively -- holding opponents to 39.8 percent shooting from the field, 23rd-best in the country.
"As of the late, we've been holding teams to 30 percent shooting. We've been proud of that all throughout the year because we take great pride in our defense," said Sacre. "I know it's cliche, but offense wins games, defense wins championships. But we take great pride in our defense. We know that's won us games in the past, and we just need to buckle down and just get stops."
Gonzaga scores 76.7 points per game (also 23rd in the country), but may look to slow down the pace against St. John's.
"Their defense is really designed to force a lot of turnovers and get you to take shots that maybe are outside of your character," said Gray. "So, I mean, we're going to have to slow down and not get playing at a pace where we're not comfortable, and really take shots on our terms and make decisions. That will give us an opportunity to use our length inside and on the perimeter. So it's more a matter of us slowing down and not letting them, you know, really rush us.
"It comes down to who's going to control the tempo of this game. ... It's going to be really interesting to see who can control the tempo."
Gonzaga coach Mark Few thinks his team is up to the task of handling St. John's matchup zone.
"Well, I mean, it all depends on how we execute and take care of the ball," Few said. "If we step up and make shots, step up and deliver. This is a group that's capable of that. We've played against a lot of zone this year, and played pretty well against it. I think our guys are at least confident."