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Gonzaga men will find out soon enough if loss turns out to be good

UPDATED: Wed., March 1, 2017, 6:48 p.m.

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski (24) takes a shot as BYU center Corbin Kaufusi (44) defends during the first half of an NCAA basketball game, Sat., Feb. 25, 2017, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski (24) takes a shot as BYU center Corbin Kaufusi (44) defends during the first half of an NCAA basketball game, Sat., Feb. 25, 2017, in the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga will find out in the near future if there is such a thing as a good loss, if a loss can somehow prove beneficial in the long run.

BYU knocked off Gonzaga 79-71 in the regular-season finale Saturday.

Gonzaga (29-1) was one win from completing an unblemished regular season and having a chance to become the fifth team to enter the NCAA tournament unbeaten since 1976 – when Indiana (32-0) became the last team to run the table.

“Forget history,” ESPN analyst and former coach Fran Fraschilla tweeted Sunday: “From coach’s perspective, Gonzaga’s loss can be beneficial. Pressure’s off & loss allows team to correct mistakes with urgency.”

“It’s hard to say,” GU center Przemek Karnowski replied, when asked Saturday night if the loss could be a blessing in disguise. “Obviously, everyone is kind of frustrated right now and we’re not feeling the best. We just have to learn from it.”

A few days removed from the BYU game, junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss wouldn’t subscribe to the good-loss theory but acknowledged potential benefits.

“Our goals were No. 1, win the league, two, win the WCC tournament and three, getting to Phoenix (site of the Final Four),” Williams-Goss said. “Going undefeated was icing on the cake.

“But I definitely think winning can mask some smaller issues. There have been games we haven’t shot free throws well or boxed out textbook, but because maybe we were up by a lot it didn’t hurt us. In a close game you have to be detailed and locked into all the small areas. In that sense, it was good.”

Kentucky sprinted through the 2015 regular season and SEC Tournament with a perfect record. The Wildcats dominated opponents, to the point some wondered how they’d react in a close game. They won 38 in a row before falling to Wisconsin in the Final Four.

Wichita State won its first 35 games in 2014 before running into Kentucky, somehow seeded eighth, in a round-of-32 thriller. The Wildcats won 78-76.

Illinois in 2005 has some parallels to the current Zags. The Illini won their first 29 games but lost to Ohio State 65-64 in the regular-season finale. They rebounded to win the Big Ten Tournament and advanced to the NCAA final, falling to North Carolina.

Saint Joseph’s was unbeaten in the 2004 regular season before getting thumped by Xavier in the first round of the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

“We were out of that game at halftime. It didn’t relieve pressure,” said Martelli, whose team eventually lost to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight on a late 3-pointer by John Lucas III. “In the locker room afterward, guys were hot. We were there to pursue the tournament championship.”

Since Indiana in 1976, three of the four teams entering the NCAA tournament unbeaten made the Final Four.

The last team to win the national title after entering the tournament with one loss was North Carolina State in 1974. The Wolfpack’s loss, however, came to UCLA in the third game of the season. Of 22 one-loss teams to enter the tournament since 1974, five reached the Final Four, according to Sporting News.

The 2015 Zags (35-3) provide the closest comparison to the current squad. BYU clipped the third-ranked Zags’ 22-game winning streak on Senior Night in the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Gonzaga rolled through the WCC tournament and three NCAA tournament games before losing to top-seeded Duke in the Elite Eight.


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