Gonzaga remains undefeated. The Zags are no longer without rival.
Though his many critics will spin this as evidence that Mark Few’s team isn’t that great, despite a 26-0 record, a No. 1 ranking in the NET and KenPom computer rankings, and now the season championships. West Coast Conference regular and tournament series – Gonzaga’s 88-78 win over BYU on Tuesday night was his best possible result.
The Zags went 25 regular season games without losing. On Monday, they crossed the semifinal of the West Coast Conference Tournament. Just once in all of that they failed to win by a double digit margin. Their consecutive double-digit winning streak reached 22 games, something no team had accomplished in the last 60 years of college basketball.
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They expected a more daunting test from BYU in the WCC final than they had encountered in a long time. They surely weren’t expecting to give up 53 points in the first half and fall behind by a dozen at halftime, and still by nine midway through the second half.
However, the Zags did not panic. They survived.
“Coach Few gave me a hug and congratulated me and said, ‘This is the best thing that could have happened to us,'” All-America wing Corey Kispert told ESPN. “Resistance showed, especially from our young boys. Just the competitive fire that we show in the second half, that’s what you can’t teach. We could have easily turned around and let those guys turn us around for the rest of the game. But it’s the true mark of a champion that you can bounce back from being so low. “
The Zags stayed perfect because All-America freshman Jalen Suggs seized the moment, and that’s exactly the kind of ingredient they’ll need to become champions: NBA-level talent willing and able to take on. the pressure of the most important moments and disarm. any defense heading in your direction.
Suggs played a bit nonchalantly in the opening minutes of the second half, trying to get Gonzaga out of his deficit with three-point attempts on the early clock. Then he got serious.
There was a clean triple at the 7:56 mark that cut the deficit to 68-64. He grabbed a rebound and threw a long pass to backcourt teammate Joel Ayayi for a layup that put the Zags in front for the first time since the early stages of the game. He blocked a shot with six minutes to go. When BYU pushed back on a tie, Suggs drove hard to his right hand and hit a layup over two Cougars defenders to make it 75-73 with four minutes remaining. Gonzaga held that lead until the end, and it grew when Suggs made consecutive 3s. He finished with 23 points and five assists.
Eventually, despite struggling for so long in such a tight game, Gonzaga increased his lead to double digits and extended his record winning streak to 23 games.
“It’s a big deal and it puts us in incredible company,” Few told reporters after the victory. “It’s a great achievement, a great achievement instead of these atmospheres that have been so stale and sterile and lend themselves to defensive endeavors as we did in the first half, frankly.”
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Gonzaga will become the fifth team to enter the NCAA Tournament with a perfect record since Indiana finished a perfect 32-0 in 1976, joining Indiana State in 1979, UNLV in 1991, Wichita State in 2014 and Kentucky in 2015. .
“It’s hard not to think about it,” Suggs said. “But I think we all did a good job of staying focused. But at some point, you have to recognize how special a team is and how special the journey we are on now is. I think the best part is that we are all excited about it, we are all happy that it continues to work, but we are all ready to go back to work and prepare for Indy. “
What everyone from the Hoosiers has in common: They didn’t win it all.
UNLV lost to Duke in the Final Four specifically because the rebels were seldom challenged that they did not have the tools to react when the opposition refused to budge. All the others, at some point, had dissolved under the relentless pressure of the Las Vegas defense. Duke continued to advance and pressure the rebels.
Given that Gonzaga had won his WCC games by an average 24-point margin and had outscored great powers such as Kansas (by 12), Iowa (by 11), and Virginia (by 23), it was beginning to look like the Zags could get to. March Madness with the same lack of awareness of how to deal with adversity. Coaches can fix technical situations in practice (five minus, 2:30 on the clock, get ahead), but they can’t manufacture the tension inherent in a tight game.
A team must live that to understand it. Now Gonzaga has. This is not good news for the rest of college basketball.
The Zags don’t just have a perfect record. Now they are perfectly prepared for what comes next.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.