Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now
Gonzaga Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

John Blanchette: Regular-season perfection is pretty neat, but there is still work to do for Gonzaga

UPDATED: Sat., Feb. 27, 2021

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

And there it is. *Perfection.

Also, Baylor lost. So perfection even comes with the bonus of being a solo act.

But note the asterisk. It stands for “so far.”

Getting through the regular season undefeated in college basketball is not unlike building your dream home inside out. It isn’t going to last unless you get the roof on.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t stop for a second to admire the fine carpentry already done.

So admire away.

At 9:10 p.m. Saturday, the Gonzaga Bulldogs put a bow on the first undefeated regular season in their 116-year basketball history with an 86-69 victory over Loyola Marymount, a West Coast Conference opponent the Zags were seeing for the first time on Feb. 27 thanks to COVID pauses and the schedule improv that’s been 2021.

Amazing, coach Mark Few called.

“It’s hard to be the front-runner,” he said, “and lead the mile all four laps.”

If only it had been as much fun as it should have been.

This is no reflection on the Bulldogs, who entertained to the max from Thanksgiving to March. Fixate on any part you care to – even an undefeated hot rod has a ding or a scratch – but these Zags are one sweet ride, and can open it up in ways even past GU teams can envy.

But until a few family members were cleared to be in house for this last home stand, this splendor has been performed in front of cardboard audiences, virtual zombies as opposed to students thrashing to “Zombie Nation.”

Saturday’s Senior Night was similarly subdued.

No entrance down the steps of the Kennel through the student mob. No hugs from the folks at midcourt. The cheers of maybe 60 instead of 6,000. No postgame speeches over the microphone. Family members got to do the intros on the video board, but without ceremony.

“There’s nobody here,” Few said . “Literally, nobody here. I don’t know we’d be doing it for. Talking to the players, that’s what we decided to do.”

So – in lockstep with the rest of the season – no goosebumps. And that’s the shame.

This is a goosebump team.

And this is another milestone Few can chalk up for a program that pretty much has only one yet unattained.

“It’s getting harder and harder to find something that’s never been done,” he acknowledged.

We know, of course, that the Indiana Hoosiers of 1976 are the last college team to go unbeaten wire to wire, and the seventh undefeated national champion – the first being San Francisco in 1956.

Twelve other teams – starting with Columbia in 1951 and most recently Kentucky in 2015 – reached the NCAA Tournament without a loss. Four of those made it to the Final Four before falling.

As for regular-season unbeaten, well, just know that it’s only happened three other times this century – that Kentucky team, Wichita State the year before and St. Joseph’s in 2004. No Duke, no Michigan State, no Kansas. And most of this kind of thing is ancient history – that is to say, pre-1980.

So, it ain’t getting any easier.

But what about in this year of COVID-19, where there was no such thing as a hostile arena? Surely, this had to be an easier run.

Or are arenas with no atmosphere even more of a challenge than hostile ones?

Few’s vote has been registered long before the Zags finished the task.

“For this group to notch that is amazing,” he said Saturday, “and factor in they didn’t have the Kennel to rely on at all to me is just remarkable. Remarkable that we’ve walked into these stale and sterile environments and played for the most part with great energy and intensity and got through a very rigorous and difficult nonleague schedule and really won it going away inside our league.”

That the Zags managed to get 24 games in was remarkable enough – there are scads of other Division I teams that envy such a number. And, whatever the atmosphere, they’ve been public about their gratitude.

Perspective counts. There remains, not quite a full year since the pandemic shut down the country, thousands of people without jobs, people whose aspirations and careers have been put on hold, who are just now seeing the inside of a schoolroom, who had to keep family at a distance.

That sports has been able to marshal the resources to push on is their good fortune.

But it hasn’t been fully savored.

“I feel horrible about that,” Few said, “for both sides. The Gonzaga fans and students really deserve to see such a great team play in person and support them. And our guys really deserve to have Gonzaga fans in the stands, as hard as they played and as spectacularly as they played. They deserve to have fans screaming and yelling.

“It would have made for a more incredible year.”

But then, that’s something else the Zags can still handle themselves.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Follow along with the Zags

Subscribe to our Gonzaga Basketball newsletter to stay up with the latest news.