DENVER — That "11" on the bracket is only a number. The name that goes with it — "Gonzaga" — means a whole lot more.
The Bulldogs have become too good to be considered an underdog anymore, even if the seeding may say so.
Marquise Carter scored a career-high 24 points, lifting Gonzaga to an 86-71 victory over sixth-seeded St. John's on Thursday night to cap a stellar day for the double-digit seeds at the Pepsi Center in the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs (25-9) were the third lower seed to spring an upset in the Mile High City, joining No. 12 Richmond and No. 13 Morehead State.
Gonzaga used to be everybody's favorite mid-major, but the Bulldogs have grown into tournament regulars, a perennial Top 25 team. They looked the part against St. John's of the Big East and move on to face third-seeded BYU, the only team that survived a scare on this floor. The Jimmer Fredette-led Cougars knocked off Wofford, 74-66.
"I think people know we're a good program so it doesn't surprise them anymore," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose team has won 10 straight games. "We certainly didn't consider ourselves an underdog in this game.
"When this matchup popped up, we were excited to play. We're playing the best basketball we have all year."
Gonzaga used its size and strength to muscle around the Red Storm (21-12), who were back in the tournament for the first time since 2002.
Gonzaga outrebounded St. John's by a 43-20 margin.
"Their size was able to dominate at the rim and in the lane at both ends of the floor," said Steve Lavin, who's in his first season in charge of a program brought to power decades ago by Lou Carnesecca. "That was a concern coming in and it played itself out.
"We haven't been outrebounded like that all year."
It was a rare early round loss for Lavin. He's now 10-2 in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament, a mark he mostly compiled during his days at UCLA.
The Red Storm simply weren't the same team without top rebounder and team leader D.J. Kennedy, who tore his right ACL during the Big East tournament. He sat on the bench in his warmups, even lacing up his shoes, hoping maybe he could somehow will his way into the game.
Instead, Kennedy had to settle for hopping up off the bench on occasion — as best as he could, anyway — to try to spark his teammates.
The fans who made the trek from the Big Apple showed their support for the senior swingman, wearing red "Do it for D.J." T-shirts.
Dwight Hardy led the St. John's with 26 points, while Justin Brownlee added 14. Sean Evans, who filled in for Kennedy, had four points and six rebounds.
The business of basketball has been booming again for St. John's under Lavin. The squad has made tremendous strides this season, rebounding from a 17-16 record in 2009-10.
Sure, the loss hurts now. But Lavin is hoping time heals those wounds and his players fully understand all they've accomplished.
"When they get out a month, two, three months, you know, a year, five years from now, they're going to look back and realize that they brought St. John's basketball back," Lavin said. "While it doesn't take the sting away from this loss, they set the bar high for anyone that follows.
"They gave our coaching staff a ride of a lifetime."
St. John's was looking for its first win on this stage since 2000, when they beat Northern Arizona in the opening round.
Back then, just like now, the Red Storm was bounced from the tournament by Gonzaga, back when the Bulldogs were relative unknowns.
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