Gonzaga forward Kyle Wiltjer celebrates as times runs out in a second-round men's college basketball game against Utah on Saturday, March 19, 2016, in the NCAA Tournament in Denver. Gonzaga won 82-59. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
Brennan Linsley
March 23, 2016

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) Gonzaga's surprising run to the Sweet 16 was accomplished because the Bulldogs have been playing in recent weeks with a chip on their shoulder and largely out of the national spotlight, coach Mark Few said.

Now Few fears all the renewed attention, with praise in the media and on social networks, might become a distraction.

''We don't want them patted on the back,'' Few said. ''I like them playing with an edge and desperation and maybe not feeling that good about themselves.''

That's the way the Zags played in the closing weeks of the season, when the conventional wisdom was that they had to win the West Coast Conference tournament just to make it into their 18th consecutive NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga (28-7) has won seven games in a row, and put on impressive displays by dismantling Seton Hall and Utah in the first two rounds of the NCAAs.

The 11th-seeded Bulldogs are favored against No. 10 seed Syracuse (21-13) on Friday in Chicago in what will be their first back-to-back appearance in the round of 16 since 2001, back in Gonzaga's true Cinderella years. They are the lowest-seeded team left.

It's been an up-and-down season for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs opened the season ranked No. 9 in The Associated Press Top 25. But they lost center Przemek Karnowski to injury, and home losses to Arizona and UCLA knocked them out of the Top 25 and out of the national consciousness. There was plenty of grumbling among the fan base after the Zags lost to conference foes BYU and Saint Mary's. There were even some empty seats at the perpetually sold out McCarthey Athletic Center.

The Zags fell to 21-7 after losing to Saint Mary's a second time in the regular season on Feb. 21 and their NCAA hopes were wavering. It was their most regular-season losses since 2010. But they haven't lost since.

Now fans are back on the bandwagon, a development that fails to impress Few.

Few preaches that players should focus on the core group of teammates and close family and friends.

''That's all they really need to worry about,'' Few said.

With outsiders, ''one week it's great and the next week the sky is falling,'' Few said. ''We need to hunker down into our own group.''

He acknowledged that is difficult in the world of social media.

''I don't participate in social media and Facebook and emails,'' Few said. ''I'm not involved in that whole lifestyle.''

But his players are, and that can make it difficult to avoid distractions, Few said.

He prefers his players ditch cyberspace and ''live in the moment with your teammates,'' Few said.

Veteran guard Kyle Dranginis said the Zags really gelled this season when they beat BYU in Provo in the last game of the regular season.

''We still have the chip on our shoulder,'' Dranginis said. ''It's helped us make this run.''

Guard Silas Melson said the Zags are playing like they have nothing to lose because many people thought they wouldn't even make the tournament.

''We've been through a lot this year,'' Melson said. ''We want to try our hardest to advance to next weekend.''

MASTER WILTJER: Senior forward Kyle Wiltjer, the Zags' leading scorer, tweeted Wednesday that he had attended the ''last class OF MY LIFE'' and was one paper and test away from his MBA.

FEW ON BOEHEIM: Few described Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim as a mentor and ''really, really good friend of mine.'' Boeheim has supported Few's coaching duties for USA Basketball and Coaches vs. Cancer fundraisers. ''He's really witty and really funny and a good guy,'' Few said.

HISTORY BOOKS: This is Gonzaga's fourth trip to the round of 16 as a double-digit seed, an NCAA record.

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