Coach Steve Lavin started preparing sixth-seeded St. John’s for Thursday’s matchup against 11th-seed Gonzaga from the onset of the season. By now, that little 1,800-mile plane ride to Denver will seem like a puddle jump for Red Storm’s seasoned travelers.
“One of the reasons we went out to St. Mary‘s to open our season, and went out to the Alaska Shootout, and went back out to play UCLA, was to prepare our players for all the different conditions you could possibly face in the postseason,” Lavin said during a news conference yesterday.
Thursday will mark the fourth trip westward for the 21-11 Johnnies.
Of course, not having danced since 2002 means zero tournament experience on the roster.
In contrast, the Zags, 24-9, are making their 13th straight tournament appearance. They come off a nine-game winning streak that included an easy victory over St. Mary’s in the WCC Championship game.
Gonzaga held opponents to 39.9 percent shooting from the floor, 22nd best in the nation. Three players in guard Steven Gray, center Robert Sacre, and forward Elias Harris score in double figures.
But while St. John’s was busy beating six ranked teams in the regular season, the Zags stumbled against San Diego State, Kansas State, Illinois and Notre Dame.
Whatever challenges Thursday’s matchup throws at St. John’s, at least travel won’t be one of them.
“The change in time, we’re used to that,” forward Justin Burrell said. “Jet lag, we’re familiar with — we’ve dealt with it so often this year.”