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March 14, 2006
Adam Morrison's growing legion of fans found an appropriate way to celebrate Gonzaga's West Coast Conference tournament title last week.
After Morrison jumped into the McCarthey Athletic Center stands, the partisan crowd picked the junior forward up and carried the man who had put their favorite team on his shoulders all season.
"Whoever dropped me would get killed in Spokane," Morrison quipped afterward.
Morrison has made himself more than the nation's leading scorer. The owner of college basketball's most famous mustache has turned into a folk hero.
In the last two weeks, Morrison has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated and The Sporting News. The season-long exploits of Morrison and Duke guard J.J. Redick have sparked a coast-to-coast debate over who's the better player.
This vote goes to Morrison, the Rivals.com National Player of the Year.
Morrison's numbers offered a convincing argument. He leads the nation with 28.4 points per game ? never scoring below 11 points all season. He also averages 5.5 rebounds per game.
Although Redick has drawn comparisons to the top shooters of all time, Morrison actually has been more accurate this season. Morrison has shot 49.8 percent overall and 43.7 percent from 3-point range. Redick has hit 47.7 percent of his overall attempts and 42.1 percent from beyond the arc.
"He might be the best I've ever seen," Loyola Marymount coach Rodney Tention said after watching Morrison light his team up for 44 points in the Zags' 79-70 victory last month.
While mid-major skeptics and hardcore Duke fans may grumble about Gonzaga feasting on a lightweight schedule, it's worth noting that Morrison delivered some of his top performances against the Zags' top opponents.
The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 34.5 points per game and shot 49-of-96 (51%) against the four NCAA Tournament teams on Gonzaga's schedule, including 43-point performances in a loss to Washington and a memorable Maui Classic triple-overtime victory over Michigan State.
Morrison already had established himself as one of the West Coast's top players before this season, but the Maui Classic brought his game ? and reputation ? to another level. He collected 86 points and 21 rebounds in three tournament games against Maryland, Michigan State and Connecticut.
The Maui Classic showed that Morrison was more than just a scorer. He developed this season into a complete player who could help his team in just about every possible manner.
"He's moving better without the ball," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "He's shooting the ball better on the three. He's rebounding the ball a little bit better. And he's locking some guys down on defense for stretches in games when we need him to."
Morrison's Maui Classic onslaught carried over to the rest of the year. He delivered one highlight after another while helping Gonzaga post a sparkling 27-3 record without a conference loss.
He banked in a 3-pointer with 2.5 seconds left to give Gonzaga a 64-62 victory over Oklahoma State. He collected 12 points in the final three minutes of an 80-76 triumph over Stanford.
Morrison broke the 40-point mark five different times, with two of those outbursts coming in back-to-back victories over San Francisco and Portland. He scored 30 points in the first half against Portland, then exploded for 37 in the second half of a 79-70 win over Loyola Marymount.
His scoring ability has NBA scouts salivating over what they can expect from Morrison next year, though the junior hasn't decided whether to turn pro after this season. He's too busy trying to make sure Gonzaga advances beyond the second round of the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001.
Gonzaga, a No. 3 seed in the Oakland Region, faces Xavier (21-10) in an opening-round game Thursday at Salt Lake City. The Musketeers won't get a very encouraging scouting report from the Zags' West Coast Conference opponents.
"I can't even explain him," San Francisco guard Armondo Surratt said after his team's 84-75 loss to Gonzaga on Jan. 23. "He's scary."
And he's creating nightmares for every other team in the NCAA Tournament bracket.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.