Duke put a stop to “Gonzaga or the field” tweets that started popping up after the Zags crushed No. 2 UCLA by 20, along with the chatter about GU’s chances of running the regular-season table for the second straight year.
Social media hot takes tend to be more plentiful than accurate, but it was easy to embrace the frequently expressed notion of a potential March Madness rematch after the fifth-ranked Blue Devils edged No. 1 Gonzaga 84-81 in an instant classic Friday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.
The loss puts the Zags in a position the program hasn’t experienced since Feb. 22, 2020. That was the date of Gonzaga’s last regular-season loss, a 91-78 setback to BYU in Provo. Gonzaga had won 32 consecutive regular-season games and compiled a 41-1 record overall – the lone loss against Baylor in the national championship last season – prior to Friday.
The last time the Zags dropped two straight games was in 2018 when they lost to No. 7 Tennessee 76-73 on Dec. 9 in Phoenix and to No. 12 North Carolina 103-90 on Dec. 15 in Chapel Hill.
The Zags’ immediate goal when they return to action Monday against Tarleton State at the McCarthey Athletic Center is to return to their winning ways with yet another marquee matchup coming Saturday against Alabama in Seattle.
Gonzaga’s long-term goal is to learn from a rare defeat and execute better in crunch time when it encounters close games down the road.
“There’s tons and tons of positives we can draw out of that,” GU coach Mark Few said of the Duke game. “Our guys felt just how good Duke was. Their transition game was equal to ours. We don’t run into too many transition games that are equal to ours. Their physicality was equal to ours.
“At the same time, I think we were able to feel like hey, if we stick with the plan and do what we’re supposed to be doing, there’s success that can be found there. Also defensively, once we settled down and got to the right spots, we made it a little harder for them to score. Probably the best thing we’ll take out of it is we have to take better care of the ball down the stretch of a game, especially in a one-possession game and finish off those shots we had.”
Tarleton State (1-5) surprisingly was in a one-possession game against No. 20 Michigan, trailing by three with four minutes left, before falling 65-54 last Wednesday.
The visitors from Stephenville, Texas, led Stanford by seven in the second half before losing by 12 and stayed close with Wichita State (65-51). They trailed No. 3 Kansas by eight at the half before getting blown out 88-62. The Texans’ lone win came against NAIA Paul Quinn College 69-42.
Tarleton State, which is in season two of a four-year Division I transition period, was picked ninth in Western Athletic Conference preseason polls. Dixie State, picked 12th in the WAC, lost to Gonzaga 97-63 on Nov. 9.
Gonzaga (6-1) remains No. 1 in KenPom’s ratings while Duke is No. 6. Tarleton State is No. 197, comparable to No. 187 Bellarmine, which lost to the Zags 92-50 on Nov. 19.
The Texans’ highest point total versus a Division I opponent is 62 against Kansas, but they’re aggressive defensively. They average 8.2 steals, force 16.2 turnovers and yield 62.7 points per game. Gonzaga is first nationally in field-goal percentage (55.2) and third in scoring (90.0).
“Tarleton is very good at getting into passing lanes, being active with their hands, feet and their energy,” said Michigan coach Juwan Howard, after his team committed a season-high 21 turnovers.
Tarleton State doesn’t qualify for official NCAA stats under D-I transition rules, but it would have ranked No. 1 nationally last season in steals (10.5), second in turnovers forced (19.5) and 15th in scoring defense (62.3).
The Texans finished 10-10 last season, 5-7 in the WAC.
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