Look for Gonzaga on the map and it takes someone in the know to find the Catholic school in the corner of the Pacific Northwest. Look for the Zags on the basketball map at this time of the year and they're usually a lot easier to find.
John Stockton once played for the school, before he went on to a Hall of Fame career making sure the Mailman was always in position to deliver. Stockton's son, David, plays there now, though he's not quite the assist machine his father once was.
Gonzaga has gone to the last 14 NCAA tournaments, once advancing to within one win of the Final Four. They're usually the kind of team other coaches hate to face early because they always seem so fundamentally sound.
Now they're No. 2 in The Associated Press Top 25 poll this week, the school's highest ranking ever. And as selection time gets near and the No. 1 seeds are picked, the question becomes this:
Why not Gonzaga?
Why not, indeed. If there's ever a season a mid-major can become a No. 1 seed and get on the inside track to the Final Four, it's this one.
The Zags have been tournament darlings before, sure. But this year they're a legitimate top-five pick on anyone's ballot - and a No. 1 pick by one voter in the AP weekly poll.
Parity reigns across the nation and, until Indiana solidified things at the top, being No. 1 was a crown to be worn uneasily. But while the Bulldogs may play in a small conference, they played a big-school schedule to make sure they're ready in March.
They're done with the label of being the little school that can. Their coach points to the schedule and says they can't even be considered a mid-major anymore.
They've been playing - and beating - the big boys for so long they're simply a very good college basketball team. Period.
"Our body of work speaks for itself," guard Mike Hart said Monday. "Our two losses (Illinois and at Butler) were quality losses. We've had a great group of games and a schedule that has been tough."
That Gonzaga is a heartbeat away from the top spot in American basketball is largely due to a pair of Canadians who couldn't be more different.
Kevin Pangos is the guard who grew up idolizing Steve Nash and can't stand to not be in the gym. Kelly Olynyk is the late-blooming 7-footer with the flowing locks who looks like he would be comfortable joining Bill Walton at a Grateful Dead concert.
Pangos was a success from the minute he put on a uniform at Gonzaga, coming off the bench in his first game as a freshman last year and then starting every game since. Olynyk, who grew seven inches while in high school, struggled off the bench for two seasons before taking a year off last season to bulk up and work on his skill set and become one of the top big men in the country.
Together they've got the Bulldogs at 27-2 with two games left until the West Coast Conference tournament.
It would all be heady stuff, except Gonzaga has been here before. Maybe not quite this high in the rankings, but coach Mark Few's team has won four of every five games since he took over in 1999, and the Zags always seem to be in the mix late in the season.
If there's a knock against the Bulldogs - the official team nickname, though they're known everywhere as the Zags - it's the usual one for teams from smaller schools (Gonzaga's enrollment is about 7,500). They play in a conference with schools they almost always dominate, making it hard to get a fix on just how good they are once the conference schedule begins.
If they were a football team, they'd be Boise State. The formula is win a few tough ones early, then beat up on conference wannabes and move up in the rankings while teams in more competitive conferences struggle. This deep into the season, though, Gonzaga has no doubt it belongs among the elite teams in the country.
"The polls mean a lot more this time of year than they do in November, December, even January," Few said. "All of us are being judged on the true body of work. It's definitely rewarding. It establishes us as a national program, which I believe we have been for the last 10 years. This group has done a great job of competing at that level, winning games at the highest level."
To win a bunch of them in a row in the NCAA tournament requires the kind of talent that some Gonzaga teams of the past have lacked. The difference this year might be Olynyk, a rare big man with the ball-handling instincts of the guard he once was.
After redshirting as a junior last year, he's now a potential first-round NBA pick averaging 17.7 points and seven rebounds a game.
"He grew up and his game grew up," Few said.
The same might be said about the school nobody in basketball considers little anymore.
Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or HTTP://TWITTER.COM/TIMDAHLBERG
The Jayhawks have responded with five straight victories, including Self's milestone win on Monday night.
Now the conference crown that seemed out of reach is Kansas' to lose.
Elijah Johnson scored a career-high 39 points - including eight in the final 29 seconds of regulation and 12 in overtime - and No. 6 Kansas rallied to beat Iowa State 108-96.
"I thought that when we lost those three in a row, we put ourselves in a situation where it was going to be very, very, very difficult because the toughest part of our schedule remained," Self said. "Our guys responded really well."
Travis Releford added 19 points for the Jayhawks (24-4, 12-3 Big 12), who snapped Iowa State's 22-game home winning streak and kept pace with No. 13 Kansas State - which has already lost twice to Kansas - atop the Big 12.
They have Johnson to thank for that.
He hit two 3s and then made two free throws with 4.9 seconds left in regulation to tie the game at 90-all. He and Releford buried 3s to put Kansas ahead 100-92 with 2:03 left in overtime, and Johnson drilled a 30-footer with 54 seconds left that deflated a sellout crowd.
"He was in attack mode. He just played great," Self said of Johnson. "He deserved a night like (Monday) because he does work hard and his attitude is so good. He was actually special."
The path to a share of a ninth straight Big 12 title is now clear for the Jayhawks, who lost to the Cowboys, TCU and Oklahoma before turning things around.
Kansas' remaining regular-season schedule; West Virginia and Texas Tech at home, Baylor on the road, doesn't appear that daunting as the Jayhawks go for at least a share of their ninth straight Big 12 title.
"We control our own destiny. So does K-State. Of course, this is a hard place to win, as evidenced by their long winning streak. If we take care of business at home, we know we'll at least have a chance to play, get a piece of it going to Baylor," Self said.
Korie Lucious scored 23 points and Tyrus McGee had 22 for the Cyclones (19-9, 9-6), who dropped their third overtime game in Big 12 play - and their second straight at the hands of the Jayhawks.
After the game a handful of fans in the student section hurled small plastic megaphones at the Jayhawks as they ran back to their locker room.
The anger seemed to be directed at Johnson's dunk with 2 seconds left in overtime and the game well in hand. Johnson opened the postgame press conference by apologizing to Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, saying he simply got caught up in the moment.
"I shouldn't have dunked that ball," Johnson said. "I should have dribbled it out."
For Iowa State, this loss was painfully similar to the one in Lawrence on Jan. 9.
Ben McLemore banked in a late 3 to force overtime in a game the Cyclones had controlled throughout. The Jayhawks prevailed, and though the Cyclones bounced back they certainly didn't forget their lost night in Lawrence.
But with March just around the corner, Iowa State and the rest of the league are chasing the Jayhawks - again.
"Our guys battled. I've been saying that all year. Hopefully we have a lot of season left," Hoiberg said. "I love our guys. They're going to continue to fight back."
Self, who began his head coaching career at Oral Roberts, is 293-57 at Kansas. He tied former Temple legend John Chaney by reaching 500 victories in his first 662 games.
His milestone night got off to an interesting start, though.
Self was called for a rare technical foul for arguing a call less than 3 minutes into the game - much to the delight of a raucous, sellout crowd decked out in bright gold.
Self said after the game that he wanted to draw it in order to fire up his team.
It worked - as have many other moves on the journey to 500.
"I don't think it really means that much to be honest. I'm glad we got it. It means I've been doing it for a while," Self said. "All I really care is if this team is having the best year possible."
Follow Luke Meredith on Twitter: WWW.TWITTER.COM/LUKEMEREDITHAP
Patrick made history up front at the Daytona 500, only to see Johnson make a late push ahead of her and reclaim his spot at the top of his sport.
It was the second Daytona victory for Johnson, a five-time NASCAR champion who first won "The Great American Race" in 2006.
Patrick, the first woman to win the pole, also became the first woman to lead the race. She was running third on the last lap, but faded to eighth at the finish.
Johnson raced past defending NASCAR champion Brad Keselowski on the final restart and pulled out to a sizable lead that nobody challenged over the final six laps.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. settled for second place. Mark Martin was third.
Keselowski, who overcame two accidents earlier in the race, wound up fourth.
Patrick was clearly disappointed with her finish but admitted she wasn't sure what move to make if she was going to try for the win.
These days, being busy is simply all in a night's work for Varlamov.
The young goaltender stopped 33 shots and Jones scored at 4:43 of overtime, leading the Avalanche to a 1-0 win over the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday night in front of a smattering of boisterous fans that braved a winter storm.
Try as he might, though, Varlamov just couldn't pick out a save that stood out.
To him, they were all solid as he posted his second shutout of the season.
The closest St. Louis came to getting anything past him was when Alexander Steen lost his balance and slid into the goal.
"Varly looked very sharp," coach Joe Sacco said. "He's been doing that lately."
That he has. He's seen 126 shots over his past three games.
Not that he minds the work, especially when it pays off like this.
"That was good," Varlamov said. "We played very well."
His performance paved the way for Jones, who scored his first goal since Jan. 22. On his only shot of the game, too.
Matt Hunwick set up the winning goal by bringing the puck into the zone and passing it over to Jones, who sent a wrist shot over the left shoulder of Jaroslav Halak.
"I placed it well enough to beat," said Jones, who scored his sixth career OT goal.
Halak had a slightly different take. He thought the puck deflected off a defenseman, leading to the crazy carom that got by him.
"It was a deflection," Halak said. "Changed direction on me."
Halak stopped 19 shots in his first appearance since coming off injured reserve earlier this month with a strained groin. He got the start with rookie Jake Allen playing the night before and Brian Elliott struggling.
"It's always great to be back, back on the ice and playing games and being around the team," Halak said. "Obviously, I'm not happy with the result."
Neither was St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock.
"We had all kinds of chances and we didn't finish around the net," Hitchcock said. "Left the game out there and they made us pay."
The Blues have had quite an arduous traveling adventure of late. The team recently spent 14 hours stranded in Vancouver due to plane trouble, only to arrive back in St. Louis at 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday. That night, the Blues dropped a 2-1 decision to San Jose.
But they showed no signs of fatigue against Colorado, controlling the pace of play for most of the game.
St. Louis was scheduled to leave town after the game. Weather forecasters were expecting the Denver area to receive up to eight inches of snow.
Colorado suffered a blow to its offense when forward Milan Hejduk didn't return for the final period because of a torso injury. The 37-year-old just recently recorded the 800th point of his career, becoming only the second Avalanche player to reach that milestone.
Midway through the final period, Blues forward Vladimir Tarasenko left the ice with a towel draped over his mouth after taking a hit from Mark Olver near the boards. Tarasenko was escorted by trainers into the locker room.
No penalty was called on the play.
Vladimir Sobotka nearly put the Blues on the board in the second period when he cruised in after two Avalanche players collided near the blue line and knocked each other over. Just as Sobotka was about to shoot, though, Varlamov stuck out his stick and swatted away the puck.
However, Tyson Barrie was called for hooking on the play. St. Louis couldn't take advantage of the power play, leaving the game scoreless through two periods.
Halak caught a break 40 seconds into the opening period when Jamie McGinn's shot clanged off the left post. McGinn had another chance later when P.A. Parenteau hit him in stride at the blue line and he had a clear path to the goal.
But a diving Roman Polak knocked the puck away, along with the goal post as the Blues defenseman slid right into it with his right leg. Polak stayed down in the corner for a few minutes before gingerly skating to the bench. He later returned to the game.
The Avalanche struggled in the first period and had a season-low two shots.
They may soon receive a much-needed offensive boost with captain Gabriel Landeskog on the mend from a concussion that's sidelined him for nearly a month. Landeskog went through drills with his teammates at the morning skate Wednesday, wearing a bright orange jersey so no one would hit him.
The league's reigning rookie of the year is hoping to join the team on a three-game road swing through California starting this weekend. He's trying to quickly work his way back into game shape.
Said Landeskog: "My hands aren't quite there yet, feet aren't quite there. My lungs aren't quite there. But I'm working on it, trying to get better every day."
Notes: Johnson (head injury) missed his fourth straight game. ... Jones is third in franchise history in career OT goals, trailing Hejduk (nine) and Joe Sakic (seven). ... Blues D Barret Jackman played in his 615th career game, tying him with Bob Plager for fifth-most in franchise history.
Phil Pressey added 10 assists, seven points, six rebounds and three steals for Missouri (19-7, 8-5 SEC). The Tigers didn't have Bowers a month ago in a 31-point blowout loss at Florida.
Mike Rosario had 14 points for Florida (21-4, 11-2) but missed a 3-point try at the buzzer. The Gators had won 13 of 14 and led 49-36 with 10:51 left, then hurt themselves at the foul line.
Florida missed five straight free throws in the second half, three times on the front end of one-and-ones. The Gators made six of 12 foul shots overall, while Missouri was 12 of 15.
The Tigers improved to 15-0 at home this season. They are 30-1 the last two seasons under coach Frank Haith.
The Sharks' seven-game skid was their longest streak since a 10-game run Nov. 5-30, 2005.
Joe Thornton also scored for San Jose, which began the season with a franchise-record seven successive wins.
St. Louis has dropped five consecutive home games. The Blues also had a three-game winning streak halted. The Blues were coming off a 3-0 road trip with wins in Detroit, Calgary and Vancouver.
Kennedy scored the go-ahead goal at 13:02 on a shot from the left faceoff circle that eluded goalie Jake Allen, who had won the first three starts of his career.
Meanwhile, the Blues have traded defenseman Scott Ford to the Nashville Predators in exchange for forward Jani Lajunen.
The Twitter tribute followed news that Buss died Monday at a Los Angeles hospital at the age of 80. He'd been hospitalized for most of the past 18 months while undergoing cancer treatment.
Under the ownership of Buss since 1979, the Lakers became Southern California's most beloved sports franchise, and became linked in the eyes of the world to Hollywood glamour.
And few owners in sports history can rival his success. The Lakers made the NBA finals 16 times since Buss bought the team, winning 10 times between 1980 and 2010. The team is now largely run by two of his six children, Jim Buss and Jeanie Buss.
Jerry Buss always referred to the Lakers as his extended family, and the players rewarded his fan-like excitement with devotion and friendship, in addition to the ten championships. Magic Johnson and fellow Hall-of-Famers Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy formed lifelong bonds with Buss.
Courtside seats for the Lakers are the hottest tickets in Hollywood -- with Jack Nicholson and many other celebrities attending every home game.
NBA Commissioner David Stern is remembering Buss as a "visionary owner" whose impact on the league "will be felt for decades to come."
Patrik Berglund also scored for St. Louis, which swept its three-game road swing after losing five straight games.
Blues rookie goaltender Jake Allen made 28 saves and stopped the Canucks' Ryan Kesler and Alex Burrows in the shootout.
Kesler and Henrik Sedin had their first goals of the season and Mason Raymond also scored in regulation for Vancouver, which has lost two straight after winning six in a row.
The Canucks looked destined to lose in regulation after the Blues took a 3-2 lead early in the third period, but Raymond tied the game on a power play with 1:47 remaining.
The St Louis baseball Cardinals have extended General Manager John Mozeliak's contract through 2016 and picked up manager Mike Matheny's option for 2014. The announcement was made Thursday morning by team President Bill DeWitt, Jr. at spring training camp in Jupiter, Florida.
KTRS Sports contributor Joe Strauss tweets that if Mozeliak serves out his term as GM, he and predecessor, Walt Jocketty, will have steered the club for 23 seasons.
Mozeliak, who is entering his sixth season as the team's general manager, had his contract extended through 2016.
During Mozeliak's tenure as GM, the Cardinals have won the 2011 World Series and they have been to the postseason three times, including the past two seasons.
The 2012 club, managed by Matheny, was one win away from a second consecutive National League pennant when it lost a three-games-to-one lead in the National League championship series to the San Francisco Giants.
"It looked like a case of here we go again," St. Louis coach Ken Hitchcock said.
The Blues, though, had other plans.
Alexander Steen stuffed in a rebound 52 seconds into overtime to lift St. Louis to a 4-3 much-needed victory over Detroit on Wednesday night.
"Just hoping something bounced out," Steen said. "Got lucky. I think we got scared into the right direction. I think that fear made us play hockey."
The Blues were good early, starting 6-1, then lost five straight before rallying for a win in Detroit.
"This is a real boost for our team," Hitchcock said. "This is the boost that we need to start playing like last year."
St. Louis advanced in the playoffs last year for the first time in a decade before being swept by the eventual-champion Los Angeles Kings in the second round.
After sputtering early in the lockout-shortened season, Detroit had won a season-high three straight wins with a stretch of success that started with a 5-1 victory over St. Louis.
The Red Wings set themselves up to extend the streak, but blew a two-goal lead in the first period and chances to win in the third period on a pair of chances with an extra skater.
"If we would have kept playing like we did in the first I don't think we would have needed a power-play goal," Detroit captain Henrik Zetterberg said. "It was probably our best first period of the whole year and then they took over completely in the second period."
St. Louis goalie Jake Allen, making his first NHL start in his second game in the league, made 15 saves. Jaroslav Halak missed his fifth straight game with a groin strain, an injury he had in a Feb. 1 loss against Detroit, and Hitchcock said he's day to day.
Hitchcock was happy with the way Allen, and his teammates, bounced back after being down 0-2.
"This is a game that could've gotten away on us," Hitchcock said.
Jimmy Howard faced just three shots in the first period and finished with 21 saves for the Red Wings.
Allen gave up a goal on Detroit's first shot, getting fooled by fellow rookie Tomas Tatar's deke in front of the net that set up his first score of the season 2:17 into the game. Drew Miller scored his first goal of the year 5-plus minutes later to give the Red Wings a 2-0 lead.
"Our third and fourth line, they got us the goals," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "I should have probably stuck with them longer than I did."
Patrik Berglund's short-handed goal late in the first period pulled St. Louis within a goal. Rookie Vladimir Tarasenko's sixth goal of the season tied it at 7:12 of the second period and Chris Stewart put the Blues ahead 3-2 less than 2 minutes later.
"Berglund's goal short-handed really calmed everything down," Hitchcock said.
Pavel Datsyuk tied it again with his sixth goal midway through the second period, scoring from behind the net on a shot that went off Allen's left leg.
The Red Wings had two power plays in the third period, but couldn't take advantage. They had just six shots combined over the second and third periods after getting 11 on net in the first.
"I didn't tell `em not to shoot," Babcock bristled.
NOTES: Red Wings F Johan Franzen missed the game with a hip injury and Patrick Eaves replaced him in the lineup. ... Detroit and St. Louis played for the fourth time in 13 games during the lockout-shortened schedule and will meet for a fifth and final scheduled April 7 in Detroit. ... Tatar played in his fifth game this year for the Red Wings and the 14th of his career. ... The Blues recalled Allen from Peoria on Tuesday. ... St. Louis has power-play goals in each of its last seven games. ... Seven-time Norris Trophy winner Nicklas Lidstrom got a standing ovation when he was shown on the videoboards, attending his first game since retiring last summer. ... Detroit had beaten the Blues four games in a row at home.
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