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Bouldin adds name to list of Gonzaga's bright stars

What happens this weekend in HSBC Arena won't change the legacy guard Matt Bouldin has forged at Gonzaga. It can only add to it.

The 6-foot-5 senior was named West Coast Conference player of the year and that just begins the long list of his accomplishments. He was a midseason pick as a finalist for both the Wooden and Naismith Awards as national player of the year and one of the final 11 choices for the Bob Cousy Award to the nation's top point guard.

And keep in mind that he's been the main man from day one in October. The Bulldogs start two sophomores and a freshman and were expected to be in rebuilding mode.

"He came into this year with as much on his shoulders as any player we've ever had relative to who he was playing with," said coach Mark Few. "He's handled it amazingly well. He'll go down in the annals of our program as one of the all-time greats with [Dan] Dickau, [Blake] Stepp, [Adam] Morrison, [Ronny] Turiaf and Stocks [Hall of Fame guard John Stockton] and all those guys. That's an incredible accomplishment right there.

"It's been a great season, especially coming in with the expectations we had. I really think we didn't have any," Bouldin said. "This team is the most fun I've had in my four years. So to be mentioned with those guys is icing on the cake really."

Bouldin set career highs in scoring, rebounding, assists and three-pointers and did plenty against the big names on the schedule. He had 22 points against Wake Forest and 18 against Wisconsin, adding five assists in each of those games. He had 19 points in a win at Memphis.

"He's a great player, shares the experiences with us that helps us to the next step," said freshman guard Elias Harris, the WCC newcomer of the year. "His coolness on the court keeps everybody involved in the game and motivates everybody. That makes him such a great player and teammate."

"This team is closer, the chemistry is better than last year which is saying something," Bouldin said, referring to the Zags' 2009 Sweet 16 club. "The thing I love most about this team is that there's no fear really. We have a tougher, grittier mind-set."

Bouldin, who is from Highlands Ranch, Colo., understood what the school's rise to national prominence meant. NCAA appearances are expected now as the Zags are in their 12th straight tournament.

"It's huge," Bouldin said. "Coming to Gonzaga, that was one of the things I was excited about. They were winning and I wanted to win games. Going to the tournament every year is such a privilege."

"We always say, 'Don't let it happen on your watch,' meaning not to get a league title and not make the NCAA," Few said. "If you would have seen the first 10 days of practice, you would have seen the challenge Matt had ahead of him leading this club. But he just absolutely hit a home run."

e-mail: mharrington@buffnews.com

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FIRST ROUND: Tipoff: 7:10 p.m., Friday, HSBC Arena • TV: Ch.4 • Latest line: Florida St. (-1 1/2 ) Fast fact: Gonzaga is making its 12th consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament.

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