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From downing Duke to getting tripped up by Tennessee, here are six games that shaped Gonzaga’s season

UPDATED: Sat., March 16, 2019, 8:29 p.m.

Gonzaga players celebrate after defeating Duke 89-87 to win the Maui Invitational. (MARCO GARCIA / AP)
Gonzaga players celebrate after defeating Duke 89-87 to win the Maui Invitational. (MARCO GARCIA / AP)

Every game has shaped Gonzaga’s 2019 journey, but several not only influenced the Zags’ season but the national landscape.

We selected six key games from the regular season and West Coast Conference Tournament as the Zags (30-3) await Selection Sunday.

Gonzaga 89, Duke 87 (Nov. 21): Gonzaga’s crowning achievement of the season came in nonconference play, a regular occurrence with the Zags’ annual front-loaded schedules.

But this one was arguably the biggest November or December win in program history.

The Zags were ranked third and considered a national championship contender, but they cemented their status by outlasting No. 1 Duke on a neutral floor for the Maui Invitational championship. Gonzaga led by as many as 16 early in the second half before surviving a frantic finish.

The stars came out to play in one of the season’s most memorable games. Tournament Most Valuable Player Rui Hachimura had 20 points, seven rebounds and five assists, and went around RJ Barrett for the winner with 1 minute, 15 seconds left. Brandon Clarke had 17 points, five boards and six blocks. Zach Norvell Jr. scored 18 points and Josh Perkins added nine points and seven assists.

Barrett had 23 points, but his last-second shot was blocked by Clarke. Zion Williamson finished with 22 points, 10 boards and four blocks.

The Zags swatted four shots in the final minute to offset missing four free throws in the closing 30 seconds.

“What a basketball game,” coach Mark Few said.

Gonzaga 81, Washington 79 (Dec. 5): The top-ranked Zags had their hands full with the Huskies’ zone defense, but Hachimura took a pass from Perkins and buried an elbow jumper with less than 1 second remaining at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“They were pressing up the entire game, so I knew the high post would be open,” Perkins said. “Rui was open and he’d been making shots for us the whole game.”

Hachimura played all 40 minutes and carried the offense with 26 points, eight coming at the free-throw line. The Zags made just 42.9 percent from the field, their season low until Tuesday’s setback against Saint Mary’s.

Jaylen Nowell, recently named the Pac-12 Player of the Year, matched Hachimura’s 26 points. Matisse Thybulle added 18 for the eventual Pac-12 champion Huskies.

Tennessee 76, Gonzaga 73 (Dec. 9): The Volunteers ended GU’s two-week stay at No. 1 by rallying from a nine-point deficit with 6:15 remaining in Phoenix.

Admiral Schofield torched the Zags for 30 points, 25 in the second half. He scored the Vols’ last 11 points, including a banked 3-pointer and the dagger with 22 seconds left when Gonzaga botched a defensive assignment and left Schofield open out front.

“I was supposed to switch,” Hachimura said, “but I didn’t switch on the last play, so he was open.”

Only five Zags scored, led by Hachimura’s and Clarke’s 21 points. The Volunteers collected 16 offensive rebounds in handing Gonzaga its first loss.

North Carolina 103, Gonzaga 90 (Dec. 15): The visiting Zags scored just fine, but struggled again on the boards and defending the 3-point line.

Gonzaga was outscored 27-0 on second-chance points as the Tar Heels cashed in on 14 offensive boards. UNC was 13 of 25 from distance. Norvell scored 21 points and Perkins had 20 points and eight assists. Hachimura and Clarke combined for 32 points and 10 boards, below their season averages of 36.6 and 15.2.

North Carolina became the first team to score 100 points in regulation against Gonzaga since Virginia in January 2007. The Zags absorbed back-to-back losses for the first time since February 2014. They ended a draining month-long stretch of eight games against power conference opponents on a down note.

“Just be tougher,” said Norvell, when asked what needed to change on defense and on the glass. “I feel like through stretches of those games we were really soft.”

Gonzaga 96, San Francisco 83 (Jan. 12): The Zags’ toughest test in the 16-game WCC schedule came early. In their third conference game, they trailed inside the 4-minute mark.

Gonzaga closed with a 17-2 run to defeat the Dons, a two-loss team at the time.

“It was about as good as it could be,” Few said of the Zags’ crunch-time execution.

Norvell scored all 16 of his points in the second half, including a late 3-pointer after a 0-of-6 span beyond the arc. Geno Crandall added another clutch 3. Clarke had 24 points and nine rebounds. Hachimura chipped in 21 points.

Perkins took over for a segment of the second half and finished with 16 points. Killian Tillie contributed 14 points and six boards.

Saint Mary’s 60, Gonzaga 47 (March 12): The Gaels snapped Gonzaga’s 21-game winning streak with one of the biggest upsets of the season, sending a wake-up call to the Zags prior to the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga, which beat Saint Mary’s by 48 two months ago, managed just 47 points, a season low by 20. The Zags’ record-setting offense stalled in the WCC Tournament title game with just six assists, 2-of-17 accuracy on 3-pointers and 37.5-percent shooting overall.

Meanwhile, the Gaels posted 32 paint points and won the boards 34-27. They had a 14-9 edge in points off turnovers and a 11-6 advantage in second-chance points.

“We didn’t get much of anything done,” Few said. “It was our worst offensive game of the year and they deserve credit for that.”

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