Gonzaga can’t beat the best. Another year, another disappointment. Here we go again.
Those perceptions -- realities, really -- continue to plague Gonzaga basketball.
No. 6 Gonzaga’s 66-63 loss in an overtime thriller to No. 3 Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, on Saturday night preserved them.
With another chance to prove that it’s a legitimate national title contender, the Zags zigged into a loss. They had it, man. And then, they lost it.
T.J. McConnell’s leadership, Brandon Ashley’s post-injury breakthrough, an ambidextrous defense that comfortably switched off screens and held Kevin Pangos to a 3-for-10 outing and an explosive McKale Center were key factors in a game that Gonzaga controlled until the final minutes of regulation.
Few teams would have left Tucson with a win. Arizona hit the turbo button and changed everything.
That finish marred a largely impressive performance by a Gonzaga squad that might be the best team that Few has ever fielded. The Zags held the Wildcats to 0.99 points per possession. They grabbed 38 percent of their available offensive rebounds. Przemek Karnowksi was strong inside (5-for-7, 10 points, 11 rebounds).
Gonzaga showed the college basketball world that it can hang with the big dogs, even on the road.
But the Zags failed to finish. That’s the problem. That’s been the issue.
For most programs, it would be prudent to dismiss Saturday’s game as anything but a tough road loss to a national title contender.
Gonzaga lost to Arizona on the same day that No. 15 Miami lost to Green Bay and No. 17 Michigan fell against something called NJIT, both at home. Yale beat Connecticut on Friday. Crazy, weird things that have no effect on what unfolds in March occur every year. They seem monumental on the day that they happen. Weeks later, they’re often forgotten as a team improves.
Gonzaga could still compete for a top NCAA tourney seed and make a run in March. But its history suggests otherwise.
Another year, same story, it seems.
This is Gonzaga.
The team that’s gone 2-4 against ranked squads in the regular season since 2012.
The team that has reached the second weekend of the NCAA tournament just once since 2006.
The team that has never gone to the Final Four.
The latter might change this year. Few has it all. A strong backcourt with Pangos, Gary Bell Jr., Byron Wesley and the hybrid Kyle Wiltjer. He has size inside, a talented youngster in Domantas Sabonis and a defense that’s ranked in the top 30 in efficiency for the second time since 2002.
But it probably won’t face another top-25 team until March. A run through the West Coast Conference won’t do much for its Selection Sunday stock or reputation. Brigham Young scored 85 points and still lost to Purdue. Saint Mary’s is barely a top-75 squad per Ken Pomeroy. And those two programs could be Gonzaga’s toughest tests in the WCC.
Saturday was a chance to send a message to the nation – This isn’t your older brother’s Gonzaga squad – and get a quality win.
The talent's there for Gonzaga. So perhaps it will ultimately validate the early hype.
Or maybe we’ve all seen this Gonzaga act before.
And we all know how it ends.