Fair warning: We’re updating this list in advance.
This space is dedicated to Gonzaga’s five most-anticipated McCarthey Athletic Center matchups since the cozy 6,000-seat building opened in October 2004.
Among the considerations: Hype leading up to the contest, the opponent being a rival or brand name and said opponent typically carrying a national ranking.
In other words, North Carolina. The 17th-ranked Tar Heels, with six NCAA Tournament championships and noted coach Roy Williams, immediately become the bluest blue blood to step inside the McCarthey Athletic Center when they face Gonzaga on Wednesday.
The Zags have entertained high-profile foes from the Pac-12, ACC, SEC, Big 12, Big Ten and Big East, but we settled on these for our top five:
1. North Carolina
The Tar Heels earned their first NCAA Tournament title in 1956. They added crowns in 1982 and 1993. They were back at it in 2005, 2009 and 2017.
Gonzaga remembers those last two quite well. In 2009, UNC steamrolled Gonzaga 98-77 in the Sweet 16 en route to one of the most dominating runs to a championship in tournament history.
They collided again for the 2017 national championship. Gonzaga led 65-63 after a Nigel Williams-Goss basket with 1:50 remaining. The Tar Heels scored the last eight points.
“We did a lot of things that people didn’t expect us to do,” said Williams-Goss, who rolled his ankle shortly after making the go-ahead bucket. “And we put in the work. We were right there, good enough to win a national championship.”
North Carolina (6-3) has dropped three of its last four, all to teams currently in the top 10.
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2. Michigan State 74, Gonzaga 67
Dec. 10, 2011
This one was meaningful on a lot of levels. Michigan State is seemingly a contender for the Final Four and national championship every season.
The Spartans won the 1979 title under Jud Heathcote, who started his coaching career at West Valley High and Washington State. MSU won the 2000 title under Tom Izzo, Heathcote’s successor.
Heathcote retired in Spokane and was on hand to watch the two programs he followed closely. Draymond Green stole the show with 34 points and lockdown defense on Elias Harris.
“We did a heck of a job on two of their three studs, Harris and (Kevin) Pangos, and Draymond Green was a man,” Izzo said. “There was a maturity, which we all know (Green) has been immature over his years, but every year he’s made better strides.”
The Spartans came in unranked, but the victory propelled them to No. 21 in the ensuing AP poll. The 23rd-ranked Zags dropped into the receiving votes category. Michigan State eventually earned a No. 1 seed and lost in the Sweet 16.
3. Gonzaga 97, Washington 77
Dec. 9, 2006
The Bulldogs blew out the Huskies in the first matchup of ranked teams on Gonzaga’s campus. No. 18 Gonzaga led by 20 in the first half and put up 56 points in the opening 20 minutes.
Derek Raivio scored 25 points, Matt Bouldin added 21 points and six assists in his first collegiate start and Josh Heytvelt finished with 14 points and seven rebounds. Spencer Hawes led No. 13 Washington with 20 points. Jon Brockman and Quincy Pondexter each scored 13.
“There’s not a whole lot to say,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said. “We just got flat-out, soundly beat. We were no match for them tonight. We wanted to know where we’re at against a good team on the road, and we found out.”
4. Washington State 51, Gonzaga 47
Dec. 5, 2007
No. 8 WSU played at its unhurried pace and shut down No. 17 Gonzaga in the first series meeting in which both teams were ranked.
The Zags were limited to just 19 first-half points. They shot just 25.9%, and 47 points was their lowest output in 11 seasons.
Robbie Cowgill and Aron Baynes combined for 23 points and 18 rebounds. Kyle Weaver scored 12 points. Taylor Rochestie added eight, including a huge 3-pointer with 28 seconds left.
David Pendergraft paced Gonzaga with 15 points. Micah Downs had 11 and Jeremy Pargo 10.
“David stepped up and knocked down the open 3s,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We just needed a couple of other guys to step up and knock some down. Their defense was tough to score on.
“We just needed that one shot to put us over the hump and put us in the lead.”
5. Gonzaga 80, Stanford 76
Feb. 11, 2006
There was a ton of pregame attention with ESPN’s GameDay setting up shop at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The game lived up to the hype.
The Cardinal led by five with 8:50 left, but the fifth-ranked Zags rallied behind Adam Morrison and Sean Mallon. Mallon scored six points and Morrison had 13 of GU’s last 14 points.
Morrison scored 34 points and J.P. Batista had 25.
“There was a lot of hype and pressure put on us,” Morrison said. “People don’t realize how much stuff goes on for this College GameDay, which is great for the university. But the whole week, seeing the people lining up – you can’t lose.”
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