Saturday’s 61-43 win over Akron ended like any other game.
The crowd got up on its feet, clapping and yelling for its perfect Bulldogs, who delivered a great show again. The fans grabbed their gloves and scarves, zipped up their jackets and braced themselves for the crowded parking lot and freezing air that waited just outside of the McCarthey Athletic Center’s doors.
The Zags took turns shaking hands with each of the Zips and made their way off the court and into the locker room to pack up their jerseys and head out for the night.
But cheers heard from just inside GU’s locker room doors indicated something else – Saturday’s win was not just any other victory.
After all, the undefeated Bulldogs earned their 10th straight victory, the first time GU has started 10-0 since Gonzaga joined the NCAA Division I in the 1958-57 season.
“I don’t think we need to be going crazy. Obviously, they feel good about where they are. I feel good about where they are just because … we came out in every game and executed,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
“We’re in December. I don’t think we need to be doing somersaults and cartwheels,” Few said.
Sure, it’s only December and there are more than two months left in the season. But the Bulldogs have only come close one other time in 58 years to achieving a perfect 10.
The last time the Zags started 9-0 was four years ago when the then-No. 10 Bulldogs took on Illinois in the beginning of December 2012. Illinois, which was also 9-0, was ranked 13th in the AP Top 25 poll at the time and had lost its previous five matchups against ranked teams.
That year, GU’s roster was stacked with players like Kelly Olynyk, Gary Bell Jr., David Stockton and this season’s star center, Przemek Karnowski, who was a freshman at the time.
The Zags started the night strongly in against the visiting Illini. They shot 60 percent in the first half while putting up 33 points in the first 12:20.
But in the next 27:40, the Zags fell flat and were only able to get 41 more points on the board.
The Illini held the Zags to 33 points in the second on 38-percent shooting and kept the Bulldogs from scoring any field goals for 6 minutes.
Illinois put up 44 points in the second half behind Brandon Paul’s 17 second-half points and handed GU its first loss of the season, beating the Zags 85-74.
Olynyk led the Zags with 16 points and Karnowski had nine points for GU, shooting 80 percent (4 of 5) from the field.
Although Karnowski tried to forget most of that game in 2012, he could still recall Paul running circles around the Zags four years ago.
“I just remembered that one of the guys went off on us and hit, like, 30 points,” Karnowski said.
That night, Paul made 10 of 16 field goals, shot 55.6 percent (5 of 9) from 3-point range and was nearly perfect at the free-throw line with 11 makes out of 12 attempts. The senior guard also had three assists, three steals and two blocks against GU.
Akron put similar pressure on the Zags Saturday, holding GU to 8-of-29 shooting in the first half. Akron went into halftime trailing the Zags 23-17.
The Zags came back in the second and rallied behind Karnowski’s game-high 14 points and eight rebounds. GU hit 14 field goals in the second half on 21 attempts to score 38 points and stay perfect.
But 10 wins are still only 10 wins, Karnowski said, and Saturday night is now behind GU.
“We take one game at a time, and at the end we are 10-0, but we cannot look at that,” Karnowski said. “We need to take one game at a time and keep improving.”
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