Freshmen Guards Making Impact For Gonzaga - WVU Football, WVU Basketball, News - Mountaineer Sports

Freshmen Guards Making Impact For Gonzaga

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MORGANTOWN -

College basketball fans are very familiar with the name 'Gonzaga' when March Madness rolls around every year.

Sunday evening marked the 14th straight season the Bulldogs have made the NCAA Tournament, which is tied for the fourth longest active streak in the country trailing only Kansas, Duke and Michigan State.

However, long gone are former Zaga' stars Matt Santangelo, Dan Dickau, Blake Stepp, Ronny Turiaf, Adam Morrison, Derek Raivio, Jeremy Pargo and most recently Matt Bouldin.

While each of those names left their mark in the West Coast Conference, eventually leading to Player of the Year honors for all but one of them (Santangelo), they also contributed heavily when it counted most: March.

In 1999, Gonzaga made its first ever Elite 8 appearance behind the efforts of Santangelo which put the school on the map in college basketball circles.  They have seemingly produced a household name every year since, culminating with Morrison earning AP National Player of the Year honors in 2006 while leading his school to their fourth Sweet 16 appearance in eight seasons.  Morrison eventually became the 3rd overall pick in that June's NBA Draft.

This season, however, the 25-6 Bulldogs didn't have any national or conference POY candidates.

But they do have a phenomenal freshman guard by the name of Kevin Pangos who, along with his first-year counterpart Gary Bell, Jr., have helped carry this team to the postseason once again.

Although not a national name quite yet, Pangos has every opportunity to earn that recognition this month, and his quest to doing so begins tomorrow night when he faces off against the Mountaineers.

Not unlike many of the Bulldogs former standouts, Pangos, a 6'1" sharp-shooter from Canada, was not the most highly recruited kid out of high school.  Other than the Bulldogs, his biggest offer was Cincinnati along with late interest from John Beilein's Michigan Wolverines.

Head Coach Mark Few has to be ecstatic that he held onto Pangos as the freshman has started every game but one this season averaging a team-leading 13.8 points per game.  Pangos also shoots an astounding 84.7% from the charity stripe and just shy of 41% from long range.  His 75 three-pointers are second-most in the conference.

Those numbers earned Pangos the WCC Newcomer of the Year award and placed him on the All-WCC Team.  He was also named to the All-WCC Freshman Team along with Bell, Jr.

The latter Bulldog was actually more highly regarded than Pangos heading into college.  He checked in at No. 75 in the Rivals150 and turned down the entire Pac-12 to sign with Few.

A native son of Washington, Bell, Jr. has also produced in his first collegiate season.  He leads the entire WCC in three-point percentage at 47.4%.  To say he and Pangos form a dangerous 1-2 punch from deep would be an understatement.

So far this season the Mountaineers rank in the top 20% in three-point FG defense, but WVU Head Coach Bob Huggins will have his hands full with this freshman duo.

And while that tandem has been great, they aren't the only standouts on the team.  Two other Bulldogs in junior Elias Harris (13.1 ppg, 8.7 rbg) and 7-foot senior Robert Sacre (11.7 ppg, 6.3 rbg) also made the All-WCC Team.

But its been the quarterback of the team in Pargos that is most responsible for getting them to the postseason.  He scored 30 points on 10-of-17 shooting against BYU in Gonzaga's first game of the WCC Tournament back on March 3rd.

He is a freshman, however, which means he's prone to have a bad shooting night every once in awhile.  And that's exactly what happened the following night against St. Mary's as he finished 3-of-18 from the field with only 7 points in an overtime loss.

But when Pangos is on, the Bulldogs are very tough to beat.  In early February, he dropped 27 in a win over St. Mary's during a regular season tilt.  He also scored 13 points with 7 assists in a victory over Xavier on New Year's Eve.

Bell, Jr. has shown flashes of stardom, too.  He scored 20 points in only 16 minutes of action in a blowout win over Longwood on February 27th.  His minutes have increased during the end of the season as well.  Over the last six games,  the only game Bell, Jr. hasn't played over 33 minutes in was the previously mentioned Longwood victory. He notched 42 minutes in the Bulldogs most recent contest on March 5th.  

It's very clear these two freshmen have grown to play significant roles for their team.

If the Mountaineers allow them to duplicate those efforts tomorrow in Pittsburgh, it could mean a quick exit for Huggins' crew.

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