SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Gonzaga coach Mark Few hopes this time will be different. Surely his Bulldogs deserve a high seed in the NCAA tournament.

For the past five years, Gonzaga hasn't been seeded higher than sixth, despite impressive regular-season records.

"We sent a nice message that we're a legitimate prospect," Few said Monday night after an 84-71 win over Saint Mary's for the West Coast Conference tournament title.

That victory secured Gonzaga's sixth straight trip to the NCAAs. The No. 3 Bulldogs have won a team-record 20 straight games and earned the highest ranking in school history.

But Gonzaga (27-2) has been in a similar position before only to be disappointed when the tournament brackets were announced.

In 2002, the Bulldogs were 29-3 and ranked sixth in the country only to end up with a sixth seed. They lost their opening game to Wyoming — the only time in the last five seasons they failed to get past the first round.

"I don't pay attention to it," said forward Ronny Turiaf, who matched his career highs with 29 points and 14 rebounds Monday on the way to tournament MVP honors. "It's out of our control. You never know what seed you're going to get. The NCAA committee does a great job. Hopefully, they realize we've had a great year."

The Bulldogs' only two losses came against the two top-ranked teams: Saint Joseph's and Stanford. They haven't lost since falling to the Cardinal on Dec. 20.

Even though 16 of those wins came in the WCC — far from a top conference — Few doesn't think they should be underestimated.

"I don't think it's as easy as people think to go into small gyms against an opponent bringing its best game and get it done," he said.

The Bulldogs certainly would prefer to start the NCAA tournament in Seattle, one of the sites for the first two rounds. Gonzaga already had a contingent of about 2,000 for the conference tournament, and there would probably be even more fan support if the Bulldogs stayed in state.

Also, playing in Seattle could put the team on the same path that got the 'Zags to the regional final in 1999, when they started in Seattle and advanced to Phoenix, where they hung with eventual national champion Connecticut until the final minute.

"You never know anymore," said point guard Blake Stepp, the WCC player of the year. "We'd like to be in Seattle, but we're used to traveling. We've reached another milestone moving up in the poll."

The 1999 run started their current stretch of six straight NCAA tournament berths, including three consecutive trips to the round of 16 from 1999-01.

Going back to that familiar path — the West Regional is back in Phoenix this year — is less important than getting a high seed.

"They can ship us, give us whatever number," Few said. "It doesn't matter. That's the truth. Should we be considered for a No. 1? You bet. We've done everything you could possibly ask. And don't forget we played Saint Joe's without Turiaf."

The Bulldogs have done most of their damage in the NCAA tournament as underdogs. They were a No. 10 seed in '99 when they almost made the Final Four and again the next season when they won their first two games.

In 2001, they were a No. 12 seed but made it to the third round before falling to defending champion Michigan State. As a No. 9 last year, they took top-seeded Arizona to double overtime before losing in the second round.

"Whatever way you look at it, you have to beat some tough teams to win it all," center Cory Violette said.

For now, the Bulldogs are happy to be done with the WCC tournament. They needed a last-second shot by Turiaf to beat Santa Clara in the semifinals.

"It's tough to stay focused down here," Violette said. "You take teams' best punches. It definitely feels good to be the champion and have confidence going into the tournament."