Tuesday, May 24

Gonzaga among the best teams in the NCAA Tournament? Maybe, but first they have a party to attend

INDIANAPOLIS – The ceremonial retreat from the headlines came with a triple by Jalen Suggs that at least set the margin of victory at a level commensurate with the previous 39 minutes of basketball between Gonzaga and Southern California. And as the reserves played the final 51 seconds, there were hugs in front of the bench between Gonzaga’s players and coaches. They had a clear understanding of what this meant, even though much of the 2021 NCAA Tournament lacks the typical definition of March Madness.

After their 85-66 victory, they cut the nets on a nearly empty court, occupied by only a few NCAA representatives and members of Gonzaga’s traveling group. There will be no trip to Spokane to celebrate this Final Four appearance with thousands of students and fans from the community. You will return to the hotel, as after the previous three matches of the tournament. But this will be different.

“Everybody wants to keep moving forward, but that’s not how we do it,” coach Mark Few told reporters after the game. “This is a great achievement and we are going to celebrate it. That doesn’t lessen our desire to win the next game, but these are special times.

“This is something that should be celebrated, and we should take the time to enjoy it to the fullest. I think you’re losing the meaning of life if you go to the end of the game. “

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The end of the game between the Zags and the Trojans came early. Very early. Like, shortly after the start.

USC trailed by 17 points before the 10 minutes of the West Region final passed. The Trojans committed four turnovers in that span and missed nine of their first 13 shots. At halftime, he was 49-30 in favor of Gonzaga. The first three opponents of the USC tournament averaged 58 points in all their games.

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“I think our players made some mistakes,” USC coach Andy Enfield told reporters after the game. “They are college basketball players and that’s what happens sometimes. They sped up a bit. They were very prepared to play. They knew Gonzaga, what they were trying to do. It was not a lack of preparation on the part of our players. They just didn’t play well at the beginning of the game. “

Gonzaga joined Kentucky 2015, UNLV 1991 and Indiana State 1979 as the only teams to reach the Final Four with perfect records since the 1976 Indiana Hoosiers made it all the way to the championship finale with a perfect record.

“It’s great. It’s hard not to think about that,” All-American freshman Jalen Suggs told reporters. “We do our best to keep our minds focused on the task at hand. It’s a great achievement. to be mentioned with those teams, because they are amazing. We just want to come every day and play at Gonzaga’s level, and this is the result. We are not chasing anything or anyone. “

The old narrative of “what if Gonzaga played a big conference?” It is being destroyed, match after match, before our eyes. If the Zags played in a major conference, they would simply win more games against major conference opponents.

They have played with eight teams this year that were among the best in almost every major league: Iowa of the Big Ten, champion of ACC Virginia, USC of Pac-12, Creighton of Big East and Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia of the Big 12. The only league that escaped Gonzaga’s wrath: the SEC. Lucky for them.

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The Zags didn’t just go 8-0 in those games. They destroyed almost every team on the roster. Only WVU was in double digits, losing by five. On average, those teams fell by a margin of 16 points.

Enfield was asked what it would take for one of the other three Final Four teams to stop Gonzaga from finishing the season 32-0.

“We didn’t do a good job, so I’m probably not the right person to ask,” Enfield said with a smile. “They have skill in every position. They are difficult to score because in many teams you can lose one or players at particular times, but Gonzaga is very skilled and very fast. His speed is very hard. “

There is an understandable rush to elevate this Gonzaga team into historical context, particularly after a performance like this. Are they in the conversation with Carolina 2009, Kentucky 1996, Duke 1992, Georgetown 1984 or dare we say Indiana 1976?

No not today. No one understands better than the Bulldogs that everything they do less than win the title is less than win the title.

If they lost Saturday or next Monday night, the conversation would be completely different. It will imply where the Zags rank among the top teams that didn’t win it all: Kentucky 2015, Memphis 2008, Illinois 2005, UNLV 1991. That’s not a list a team with Gonzaga’s talents and accomplishments wants to be around.

And so they will continue to focus on what is in front of them. They won’t have the usual week to prepare for the national semifinals, but they also don’t need to travel from a West Region site home to Indianapolis. They are here. They know their environment. After playing their first rounds of the tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Hinkle Fieldhouse, the Zags even played at the stadium where the Final Four will be played.

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However, if you want to compare them to the best teams not to win it, consider that in 2015 Kentucky won its regional final over Notre Dame by a basket with Willie Cauley-Stein blocking the Irish attempt at a game-winning triple. And UNLV in 1991 beat Seton Hall by just 12, after leading by just three at halftime.

Gonzaga has dominated in this tournament in a way that those two did not and do not seem affected by the alleged pressure of finishing an undefeated season. With few fans in the stands on either side, no in-person interaction with fellow students, or boosters, or even their own families, questions about perfection are limited to brief Zoom calls with reporters and perhaps a few calls or messages from text.

Although both the Zags and the Trojans are from universities in the Pacific time zone, their game was played in the previous doubleheader time on Tuesday, beginning at 4:15 PT. Few were asked if they were concerned if that meant that team fans would not be in a position to see their team reach the second Final Four in the show’s history.

“Trust me, our fans are not working. If you think they’re working, you don’t know the Zag fans, ”he said. “We do not lack more viewers or fans. They have their priorities online. They stop working early, stop whatever they’re doing, and cheer on the Zags. “


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