Gonzaga’s longest basketball season -- its best one -- ended Monday night in the desert, leaving its fans, well, leaving them a lot of things: Proud, devastated, redeemed, delivered, conflicted.
That happens when you break through long-standing barriers to reach the national-championship game, then lead the thing with less than two minutes left before succumbing.
It was a magnificent, groundbreaking, mind-blowing season by Gonzaga, one that lasted 143 days -- a week short of five freaking months -- from a blowout over Utah Valley Nov. 11 to the final, unforgiving seconds of the 71-65 loss to North Carolina at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Essentially, the Zag season ended with an eerie bit of deja vu, as Nigel Williams-Goss' shot in the lane was rejected by Kennedy Meeks. A year ago, Josh Perkins was denied -- in the lane, by Syracuse's Tyler Lydon, to keep Gonzaga out of the Elite Eight.
It ended 37-2, a ridiculous number of victories even if a lot of them came against the detritus of the West Coast Conference.
This, and the next couple of Glory Hounds blog installments, will deal with the Final Four breakthrough, what it might mean for Mark Few’s chance someday at the Naismith Hall of Fame, and what impact the Zags’ March march might have for the program and the school.
Let’s get to it:
Monday night’s officiating was, to put it kindly, abysmal. It fulfilled a zebra’s dreaded quinella of misdeeds: Multiple missed calls and an overly tight rein that disrupts flow and reduces the production to fits and starts.
Consensus generously concludes that it was bad for both teams. Still, it seemed that it was Gonzaga that had more to overcome with the incessant second-half whistles, its foul peril deepened with fouls against Przemek Karnowski and freshman Zach Collins.
With Karnowski’s shooting problems, it seemed to me the uber-gifted Collins could have become the most important player on the floor. But he drew dubious calls on his third and fourth fouls, bodying Meeks as they jockeyed for a rebound and then getting caught fending off Isaiah Hicks at the high post to free up space going to the block.
“That poor kid (Collins) got 14 minutes,” lamented Tom Brennan, the former Vermont coach, on Sirius radio Tuesday. “Fourteen minutes. That’s just a shame.”
ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, while not openly critical of the officiating on the Mike and Mike radio show, said, “There’s certain things that happen in a game, where you can make a case for making the call, and you can make an equally good case for swallowing the whistle. I thought that was the (case) with a number of calls in the game.”
But the Collins foul against Meeks -- his third, with 15:53 left in the game -- seemed to square perfectly with this Bilas assertion: “Just because there’s physicality in rebounding doesn’t mean it’s a foul.”
If Collins was guilty of anything, he could have been more judicious as his foul trouble worsened. His fifth, with five minutes left on a hold against Tony Bradley underneath on a rebound, was an anti-climactic, matter-of-fact way to end his night. And his season. And maybe his college career.
On the future of Collins and Nigel Williams-Goss -- I have no inside information on either. But I think Nigel Williams-Goss is gone, and have thought that since about February. Remember, he nosed into the idea of an early departure to the draft while at Washington. He has an undergraduate degree already. And while he’s not considered a prime target by the NBA, this may be a case in which he might not stand to become a lot more attractive by playing his last college season.
Collins? I have no idea. The pros love him. He could clearly user another college season, but we all know that often doesn’t matter. With GU minus Karnowski in 2017-18, he could be a thunderous, double-double All-American force after adding weight and strength.
One NBA scout told me Collins’ father is thought to be heavily involved in his son’s future. Whether he holds sway in this decision, who knows?
On the BYU loss -- I think we can say now that the Feb. 25 Senior Night defeat to the Cougars was a good thing for the Zags. If indeed they were feeling any burden as they forged through Northwestern, then West Virginia, then Xavier, to reach the Final Four, one can only imagine the weight of the additional pressure had they been 34-0 and 35-0, etc.
The Holy Grail of matching the 1976 Indiana team -- running the table all the way through the NCAA tournament -- is simply not the stuff of mere mortals, including this Gonzaga squad.
On the path through the tournament -- There are yard-barkers out there who -- wait for it -- are questioning the “easy” path Gonzaga had to get to the Final Four, and the championship game.
Zip it, folks. The Zags had to take out Northwestern, which, as a virgin in the tournament, suddenly was everybody’s darling. Then they outslugged No. 4 seed West Virginia in a street brawl.
So what if they met Xavier, an 11 seed, and South Carolina, a No. 7, to reach the final? Remember, seeding is based on a four-month portfolio, and what happened in November or December, even January, often has little bearing on the snapshot of what a team is now. And what Xavier and South Carolina were when Gonzaga faced them is probably the hottest two teams in the tournament.
Funny how, once those teams are ousted, revisionist thinking takes hold in some minds, and meh, Xavier and South Carolina suddenly weren’t any good.