LAS VEGAS – Dear Mr. Committee Man:
You had the Gonzaga Bulldogs on the top line before they committed the unforgivable sin of, you know, losing one game. Maybe that didn’t change your mind, but suddenly the national narrative was that there was big trouble ahead, that there were three schools on the coast alone more deserving of a No. 1 seed. And we know you don’t put on a pair of socks without some Big Badass Conference commissioner telling you what color you should wear.
But it’s not an argument worth having. Not anymore, and probably not before.
It’s certainly not an argument the Zags need to make.
Not after they dismantled Saint Mary’s for a third time this season Tuesday night, 74-56 in the championship game of the West Coast Conference Tournament – for an unprecedented fifth straight postseason league title, and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament that was the evening’s afterthought.
(Well, except to Dick Vitale, who between texting pictures from his phone during timeouts kept using precious oxygen to advance the lunacy that a loss might leave the Gaels in danger of not having a date for the dance. That’s called panhandling to keep a TV audience.)
But the Zags? They aren’t pleading a case.
“I don’t need to say anything,” coach Mark Few insisted. “We’re 32-1.
“We’ve been good from Nov. 10 to March 7. We haven’t taken any nights off. They can seed us fifth or whatever the hell they way to do and these guys will show up and fight. If there’s somebody out there that’s done better, good on ’em, man. They can have it.”
There isn’t anybody out West, at any rate. The Pac-12’s power trio of UCLA, Oregon and Arizona have six Top-25 RPI wins among them; the Zags have five themselves. Bump it to Top 50 and none of the Pacs takes more than five into their league tourney this weekend; the Zags have six.
They’ll all be formidable 2s or 3s. But Gonzaga’s planted its flag on the top line.
And, frankly, had more pressing matters Tuesday night.
Just … playing. And winning.
“We had a meeting last night and talked about it,” said senior guard Jordan Mathews. “We have to enjoy winning, enjoy basketball. It’s meant to be fun, and you need to celebrate with your teammates. That’s what we needed to get back to doing.”
In losing on Senior Night to Brigham Young, they had lost something else, too. It stayed missing through an ugly first half of their tournament opener against Pacific, and even in the strained semifinal win over Santa Clara.
“We had 10 days of adversity and finally came out the other side,” said assistant coach Tommy Lloyd. “You knew eventually it would make you better – it was just a matter of win.
“It takes some time. A lot of emotions go into it. Uncertainty creeps in there.”
And then the Zags obliterated it with a first half for the ages against the Gaels – the defense a slithery constrictor (the Gaels shot 21 percent and made 10 turnovers), the offense all irresistible aggression.
Nothing typified it better than an aria by Nigel Williams-Goss in the 15 seconds before halftime – stepping in front of SMC’s Joe Rahon to steal a pass right in front of the Zags’ bench, the finishing the layup and drawing a foul in a crowd of three Gaels for a 39-18 lead. The tournament’s Most Outstanding Player would finish with a monster line – 22 points, and sixes in rebounds, assists and steals – and then recalled his transfer from Washington and marveled that “to be sitting here a year later 32-1 and cutting down the nets, it’s a blessing.”
“He’s a closer,” Lloyd said.
The set-up men were special, too – Przemek Karnowski finishing 5 for 5 as part of WCC title teams, Johnathan Williams III hating on rims again, Silas Melson triggering and finishing the 10-points-in-60-seconds run that turned back the Gaels’ second-half challenge. And everyone did the lockdown thing: The Gaels shot 39 percent in three games against the Zags, 51 percent against everyone else this year.
Now the Zags feel ready for more.
“There’s no doubt in any of our minds that we can win the entire tournament,” said Williams-Goss. “It’s not going to be easy and we’ll have to meet a lot of challenges.”
But they’re hardened by the fact they already have.
“We got pretty comfortable up 25-30 points,” said Lloyd, recalling all those January blowouts. “When it didn’t happen, it didn’t feel right. So we had to recalibrate our guys a little because in the postseason, you’ve got to win by one and make one more play than the other guy.”
Whether you’re a No. 1 seed or some other number.
But that’s not an argument worth having, right?
Follow along with the Zags
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