For as much success as the Gonzaga men’s basketball team has experienced in the past two decades, the Zags would still need many years to match the historical accomplishments of the great men’s college basketball programs in the country.
Still, with 21 consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances, the fifth-longest active streak, the Zags are far from their Cinderella days.
Since the start of the 1997-98 season, Gonzaga has played 28 games against the 10 most successful programs of all time, that success being measured by the number of NCAA Tournament games played.
Those programs are: Kentucky, North Carolina, Kansas, Duke, UCLA, Louisville, Syracuse, Villanova, Michigan State and Indiana.
GU has defeated six of those programs at least once, and the top-ranked Zags get a chance to add a seventh on Thursday, when they play sixth-ranked Kansas in the Fort Myers (Florida) Tip-Off.
Overall, Gonzaga has won 10 of those 28 games, including a 7-11 record in regular-season contests.
Here is a look back at five of those seven signature victories in Gonzaga history with each team’s Associated Press ranking at the time.
No. 24 Gonzaga 59, No. 11 UCLA 43
Dec. 11, 1999: After losses to No. 1 Cincinnati and No. 19 Temple, the Zags were still hanging in the polls but lacked a signature nonconference victory – until this one. Gonzaga’s defensive effort was a memorable one in UCLA history, as the Bruins had never shot so poorly (26%) or scored so few points (43) in a game at Pauley Pavilion. Casey Calvary and Richie Frahm each recorded double-doubles to lead Gonzaga to a victory in its first matchup with UCLA. Of the 10 programs with the most NCAA Tournament games played, the only two Gonzaga has winning records against are UCLA (3-2) and Louisville (1-0), which it beat in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament later in the 1999-2000 season.
No. 8 Gonzaga 109, No. 12 Michigan State 106 (overtime)
Nov. 22, 2005: The Zags made a splash in their second visit to the Maui Invitational. As the fifth seed in the eight-team tournament bracket, Gonzaga opened with a win over Maryland before the triple-overtime marathon victory over Michigan State. Adam Morrison set a tournament record with 43 points, including 10 made 3-pointers, and outdueled Spartans senior Maurice Ager, who finished with 36 points. Gonzaga lost to No. 3 UConn 65-63 in the tournament final the next day. Although the Zags swept through the West Coast Conference at 14-0 that season, they didn’t beat another ranked team after Michigan State. Morrison left after the season and was selected third overall in the NBA draft.
No. 5 Gonzaga 70, Indiana 54
Dec. 6, 2008: On the heels of winning the eight-team Old Spice Classic, Gonzaga dominated Indiana one week later in what was essentially a road game played at the new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. The Hoosiers weren’t good that season, winning just six games all year. They were smothered by the Zags’ defense, which forced 24 turnovers and held Indiana to 30.4% shooting. Senior Josh Heytvelt led the Zags with 17 points as they did most of their scoring inside the arc, hitting only three 3-pointers all game. Gonzaga won 28 games and lost in the Sweet 16 to North Carolina – the eventual national champion that season.
No. 3 Gonzaga 89, No. 1 Duke 87
Nov. 21, 2018: In its fifth visit to the Maui Invitational, Gonzaga earned arguably its most impressive regular-season victory in program history in this tournament championship game. The Zags earned their first victory over a No. 1-ranked team, this coming against a Duke squad that saw three of its starters selected in the top 10 of the 2019 NBA draft.
But in Maui, Gonzaga’s own NBA-bound duo of Rui Hachimura and Brandon Clarke got the better in the end, combining for 37 points and nine blocks. Gonzaga had lost its previous three games against Duke, including a 35-point loss nine years earlier, so this was a proclamation about just how far the Zags had come in establishing their seat at the table with the nation’s elite programs.
No. 2 Gonzaga 94, UNC 81
Dec. 18, 2019: The Tar heels’ much-anticipated visit to Spokane and rematch of the 2017 national championship game proved to be a bit anticlimactic, as North Carolina arrived having lost four of its previous five. After this defeat, the Tar Heels finished the year 14-19 overall and were poised to miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2010 before the pandemic canceled the event. Still, Gonzaga’s victory – its second in five meetings between the programs – was a memorable one. Corey Kispert had one of his best games of the season, sinking 5 of 6 3-point attempts and scoring a game-high 26 points. The Zags led by as many as 23 points in a dominant performance that helped propel them back to a No. 1 ranking in the polls.
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