In a 41-hour period, Gonzaga went from winning the West Coast Conference Tournament and almost certainly clinching a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament to learning its season is over.
As tough as that is to hear for the Zags’ fan base, imagine being a player on a 31-2 team that was considered one of the favorites to win the national championship.
Tougher still, imagine being one of the seniors, Killian Tillie, Admon Gilder and Ryan Woolridge, or an underclassman who could potentially test the NBA draft waters and not getting the chance to experience March Madness, one of the most popular events on the sports calendar.
Players weren’t available to the media Thursday, but several conveyed their disappointment via social media.
“So you telling me I transferred to not play in the tournament,” Woolridge tweeted with a frowning-face emoji. The grad transfer from North Texas has cited the opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament as one of the main reasons he chose Gonzaga.
Walk-on guard Matthew Lang posted an Instagram photo with Tillie and Joel Ayayi from Tuesday’s postgame celebration in Las Vegas with the words: “Last game with my brothers all together, at least we went out on top.”
Tillie’s parents, Laurent and Caroline, flew from France to Spokane for the final homestand of the regular season, including the Senior Night victory over Saint Mary’s on Feb. 29.
They watched the Zags capture the WCC Tournament title with another win over the Gaels and planned on attending the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament in Spokane.
Laurent said he had to return to France to resume his duties as coach of the men’s volleyball national team, which includes son Kevin, during the West Regional at Staples Center. Tillie’s parents were hoping to return the following weekend for the Final Four in Atlanta.
Gilder, a grad transfer from Texas A&M, said Tuesday night was special and he was looking forward to the tournament because of the Zags’ potential to make a run.
“It feels really great,” Gilder said of wearing a WCC Tournament championship hat and T-shirt. “This is the reason I came here, to celebrate these moments with my brothers.”
Athletic director Mike Roth said the NCAA Tournament cancellation is being felt inside the program, the campus and the Spokane community.
“For a senior, they don’t get to play their last game, and now they don’t get that (NCAA Tournament) opportunity,” Roth said. “Not just for them, but also their teammates. The team, and every year this is the case, next year is going to be a different team.
“We’re a combined 59-5 (in men’s and women’s basketball). That’s crazy, right? They’re never going to be together again playing the game and that’s really unfortunate. That happens every year at some point. We were hoping that wouldn’t happen until sometime in April, after we got done cutting down the nets.”
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