It's good to see you survived the night, Zag Nation. That was a tough one and some of you are still likely feeling a bit of a sting after seeing Gonzaga's season end yesterday afternoon with a 66-52 loss to Duke.
What you're feeling is the reality that unless you cut down the nets in the Final Four, every team that makes the NCAA tournament ends its season with a loss. That's also what makes this sporting event one of the last great things in all of sports. But I know, it still stings because the reality of a Gonzaga Final Four was right there for you to almost touch. Many Northwest sports fans might not feel too bad, considering they encountered the deepest pit of sporting despair in the final seconds of the Super Bow
l. Comparatively, this is just a little scratch, compared to that faith-destroying turn of events.
And, all in all, it's hard to say the Zags let anyone down. They won 35 games this season and made it to the Elite Eight, where they lost to the No. 1 seed, which is how things were supposed to go. The Final Four would have been a delicious icing on the cake this special unit of kids had baked throughout the season, but it wasn't to be. And perhaps worse than the outcome of the game is the realization that two of the program's most beloved players, Kevin Pangos
and Gary Bell Jr., are done playing in Spokane.
"You know, we made it to an Elite Eight, and this is something you dream of, to play on this stage, the final eight teams playing college basketball. You dream of that stuff growing up. And to be playing for a guy like Coach Few made me a better basketball player. Definitely fortunate enough to be in this position right now," said Bell after the game.
What exactly happened? Well, if you look at the box score
, it's hard to suss out why the Zags didn't top Duke. Gonzaga shot better from the field, scored more field goals, and out-rebounded the Blue Devils. But Duke hit eight threes, including four by Matt Jones, and also hit 16 of 19 free throws (Zags went just 6 for 9). And Gonzaga turned it over 13 times to Duke's mere two.
There was hope, especially at the start of the second half when this happened:
It had to be a sign that the tides were changing, right? Jahlil Okafor, the top NBA prospect in the country, just air-balled a free throw. Surely, the Zags would steamroll from here on out. And Tony Romo, the king of the choke
, was decked out in blue behind the Duke bench. All harbingers of good things to come.
And with 16 minutes left in the game, a win looked plausible. Byron Wesley hit a shot to put Gonzaga up 38-34 and Indianapolis was starting to feel pretty damn close. Well, the Zags didn't score again for more than five minutes of game time and began uncharacteristically turning the ball over. And ridiculously bad luck like this didn't help.
And if you just looked at the 14-point loss in the headline, you'd think the Zags were down and out by this time, but that wasn't the case. With 4:51 left in the game, and the Zags down 53-51, Kyle Wiltjer got a pass right under the basket with no defenders in sight. And he missed.
The Zags would only score one more point from here on out and Duke would continue to shoot well from the perimeter. After the game Mark Few said it's a shot Wiltjer makes 499 times out of 500, but the Zags were cursed to have that one-in-500 shot come at the worst possible time. Personally, I blame the black jerseys (here's some good background on the history of these ill-fated uniforms
) Gonzaga wore for the fact that they had their worst scoring output in six years.
Again, there is a lot to celebrate about this team. Also, Duke is the real deal and is playing some excellent basketball. If they get Kentucky in the final, it could be a battle.
Today, there was a little good Zag news in word that Pangos and Wiljer had been named third-team AP All Americans
. But I know, I know — you're still thinking about what could have been.
We'll see you next season (and, by all indications, so will Witjer, Karnowski, Sabonis, McClellan, Dranginis, Perkins, Edwards and others — time to start looking forward to that.).