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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

John Blanchette: Hysteria and Horse Sense aren’t here for the Gonzaga naysayers ahead of NCAA Tournament

By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

The bars are open again, and so it was no surprise to find those two BFFs and Gonzaga fans, Hysteria and Horse Sense, enjoying socially distanced microbrews at separate tables.

Horse Sense: “So here’s a toast to 32-0!”

Hysteria: “What?”

Horse Sense: “The magic number. What it’ll take for the Zags to run the table.”

Hysteria: “What?”

Horse Sense: “Thirty-two and …”

Hysteria: “I can’t hear you. Take off that mask. Governor says we’re in the third quarter, and about time.”

Horse Sense: “You mean Phase 3. Not yet, actually. But, yes, it’s not like I can drink to the Zags through this mask anyway.”

Hysteria: “The 32-0 Zags!”

Horse Sense: “Here here!”

Hysteria: “What? You’re the one always pumping the brakes whenever I want to rev the Zaggerati up to top speed. Gonzaga gets to No. 1 in 2013 and you tell me it’s a bad omen. I said they were going undefeated in 2017 and you buried me in probabilities.”

Horse Sense: “Was I wrong?”

Hysteria: “You are Sgt. Curmudge and I just get conned into re-enlisting every year. So why are you stealing my exclamation points now?”

Horse Sense: “That’s no mystery. The only way for the Zags to win the national championship now is to go undefeated, right? If losing one was supposed to take the pressure off, it’s too late now. It’s 32-0 or bust.”

Hysteria: “To 32-0! But wait – don’t you have a bunch of musty history to kill my buzz and prove that it’ll take a miracle?”

Horse Sense: “Well, now that you mention it …”

Hysteria: “Bartender! Give me a hemlock. Beer back.”

Horse Sense: “Surely you already know that such a thing hasn’t been done in 46 years.”

Hysteria: “Yes, yes – Indiana in 1976 was the last to finish a college basketball season unbeaten. I’ve heard it on every Gonzaga broadcast this year, right between Jalen Suggs’ high school football highlights and the analysis of whatever Drew Timme’s facial hair is this week. And don’t call me Shirley.”

Horse Sense: “And the first team to do it?

Hysteria: “Hey, I go back to the beginning with Gonzaga basketball – you know, the Turiaf years – but I’m not ancient like Jay Bilas or Sean Farnham.”

Horse Sense: “It was Gonzaga’s West Coast Conference running mate, the University of San Francisco. Bill Russell, K.C. Jones – they went 29-0 in 1956. Beat the league teams by an average of 21 points a game.”

Hysteria: “And I bet the Big Ten and Big 12 fans were all over Twitter saying, ‘The Dons don’t play anybody.’ ”

Horse Sense: “Something like that. But you know, Holy Cross and Seattle U. were somebody in those days.”

Hysteria: “C’mon professor. Give me more.”

Horse Sense: “OK. The year after USF came North Carolina – they had to win two triple-overtime games in the Final Four, including one over Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas. Then came UCLA.”

Hysteria: “So only four schools have gone unbeaten wire to wire?”

Horse Sense: “Right. USF, Carolina and Indiana – and UCLA four times.”

Hysteria: “Four? Well, that’s not so many. Bill Walton says ‘Conference of Champions’ four times before the first TV timeout.”

Horse Sense: “In those days it was. Well, conference of champion, anyway.”

Hysteria: “So that’s seven unbeaten champions in the space of 21 years? What happened after 1976?”

Horse Sense: “Magic Johnson and Larry Bird came along a few years later, and college basketball became … well, college basketball. More good players. ESPN gave it a stage. The blue bloods kept getting bluer, and football schools saw the game was worth their investment. And now it takes six wins in the tournament to cut the nets. Indiana had to win five, and the others four. Not only hasn’t there been an undefeated champion since 1976, Gonzaga’s only the fifth team since then to enter the tournament without a loss; all but one lost in the semis or championship game.”

Hysteria: “Which will just mean one more milestone for the Zags!”

Horse Sense: “I admire your confidence. But you have to admit just getting to this point unscathed is one for the books, what with playing four Top 25 teams before Christmas, COVID pauses, library-quiet arenas.”

Hysteria: “And all those terrible charge calls.”

Horse Sense: “Look at what’s happened to the game’s big names. Kentucky had its worst season in 94 years. Duke barely cracked .500 and has declared its season over. Michigan State and Syracuse both bubble sitters sweating out the last few conference championship games. Virginia shut down by the virus and hoping to pull together its team. You know, so many of the sport’s marquee programs are either down or out that even if the Zags do manage to win it people will say …”

Hysteria: “Put the mask back on. I don’t want to hear it.”

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