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Loss stings, but Gonzaga’s goals remain the same

Gonzaga coach Mark Few doesn’t care for a foul call against center Przemek Karnowski on Saturday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga coach Mark Few doesn’t care for a foul call against center Przemek Karnowski on Saturday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Before Saturday, UCLA couldn’t play defense and Gonzaga couldn’t lose.

Before Saturday, the Zags seemed immune to the wonderful zaniness that is college basketball. Five AP top-10 teams suffered losses last week, including BYU’s 79-71 stunner over No. 1 Gonzaga.

Before Saturday, Gonzaga was solidly on the No. 1 seed line and in the hunt for the top overall seed.

After Saturday, the Zags have one loss, on-court corrections to make and some openings on the bandwagon.

And the exact same list of goals they had before Saturday.

“It hurts,” junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “You’re close to making history (with an unbeaten regular season) and when you’re that close you want to finish it off. It sucks that we weren’t able to do that.

“We still have a chance at our ultimate goal, which is to get to Phoenix and win a national championship. That part hurts, but hopefully we just make it right and turn it around.”

Gonzaga will fall from its No. 1 perch in both major polls after a four-week stay. Kansas figures to jump from No. 3 to the top spot with No. 2 Villanova going 1-1 last week. No. 5 UCLA will climb after knocking off No. 4 Arizona in Tucson.

The question is the impact of the Zags’ loss on their NCAA tournament seeding. GU no doubt lost some footing, but numerous projections still have the Zags on the one line as the fourth overall seed.

Remember all the hand-wringing when the NCAA selection committee released its top 16 seeds on Feb. 11 and Gonzaga checked in at No. 4 overall?

Barrels of ink were spilled that the Zags couldn’t afford a single loss. Now they’ve lost, at home no less, and many bracket gurus still peg them as fourth overall.

Of course, that’s not a unanimous opinion.

“If they had lost at BYU or at Saint Mary’s, OK,” CBS analyst Steve Lappas said during a game broadcast. “To lose at home and then be a No. 1 seed in the league they play in, I think it’s going to be tough.

“Put it this way: If you were an 8-9 seed and in your next game you have to play a 1, Villanova, Kansas, North Carolina or Gonzaga, which one are you taking? I know which one I’m taking.”

The Zags have eliminated their margin of error at the WCC tournament. Another loss drops them one, possibly two, seed lines.

Villanova and Kansas appear to be No. 1 locks. North Carolina, barring a bad stumble before Selection Sunday, is closing in on a No. 1 seed. The ACC has had a one seed in 12 of the last 13 tournaments.

That leaves one top seed left, presumably up for grabs between Gonzaga and a trio of Pac-12 teams. Maybe that sentence should read Gonzaga, Oregon and UCLA. GU’s win over Arizona in December, regardless of Allonzo Trier’s absence, probably decides a head-to-head debate if the need arises.

It gets dicey for the Zags if the Bruins or Ducks run the table.

Coach Mark Few was asked Sunday during a CBS interview if he would prefer being a No. 1 seed outside the West Region or the second seed in the West. Few mentioned Gonzaga has a solid fan base in California but “it’s going to be a tough battle whether you’re a 1 or 2. I’d say coin flip on that.”

Before Saturday, that wasn’t a question he’d probably even considered.

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