STILLWATER — For all the storied tradition and tales associated with Gallagher-Iba Arena, history reveals one notable feature lacking in Oklahoma State's grand old gym:
Visits by ranked nonconference foes.
On rare occasions — only 12 times since 1952 and not since 1989 — have nonconference teams carrying Top 25 status ventured inside GIA. That makes No. 13 Gonzaga's visit on New Year's Eve all the more intriguing.
Not only are the Bulldogs a recognizable basketball name, they represent a telling checkpoint for the Cowboys, themselves ranked at No. 22 and seeking a significant bump into Big 12 play.
“Obviously, we know it's a big game,” said OSU freshman Phil Forte. “They're a top-15 team. Everyone knows what they do every year — an NCAA Tournament team and one of the top programs.
“We know we have them coming to our place New Year's Eve. And we know we have our work cut out for us.”
The Cowboys haven't hosted a ranked nonconference foe since Dec. 5, 1989, when No. 16 Memphis absorbed a 93-66 whipping by an unranked OSU team inside GIA. The Bulldogs will be the highest-ranked non-league opponent to visit since 1980, when the Cowboys knocked off No. 8 Louisville, 72-71, after the Cardinals had won the national title the previous season.
So clearly, this meeting is significant.
“Very exciting,” said OSU backup point guard Kirby Gardner.
One of the most accomplished programs outside basketball's power conferences, Gonzaga has made the postseason in 18 of the last 19 years, including 15 trips to the NCAA Tournament, making several deep runs. Coach Mark Few, in his 13th season at the school, has elevated the program, going 353-91 overall and making the Bulldogs a mid-major to fear.
This team returned eight lettermen and four starters from a squad that advanced to the NCAA's third round a year ago. And the maturity and talent has been evident so far, with the Bulldogs off to an 11-1 start that includes a championship at the Old Spice Classic. They've been especially rough on Big 12 teams, owning routs of West Virginia, Oklahoma and Kansas State, with Baylor due in Spokane, Wash., on Friday night.