Top 10 teams...check. High quality basketball...check. Great game atmophere....check. Gonzaga victory.....nope. In front of a loud and racous crowd at Key Arena, the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Conneticut Huskies played one of the finest college basketball games I have ever seen in person. However, as a Gonzaga fan, this is a game that will haunt me until March.
Not to take anything away from the UConn Huskies, but the Zags through away a victory today. Mental errors from the usually reliable backcourt of Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin doomed this team in crucial times. But there are other factors that contributed to this devastating defeat.
Why The Zags Lost:
- Lets get the obvious reason out of the way: Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin did not play at a championship level. The issue with Pargo was his boneheaded decision making during key points of the game. As a senior, there is no way in hell that Jeremy should be throwing the ball across the court against a full-court press. Pargo also forced the ball into the key on numerous occasions, when he would have been much better off slowing down and running the offense. I do think that the severe cramping that Jeremy was suffering from throughout the game had an impact on his performance, but some of his decisions were still tough to swallow.
"They’re one of the best teams in the country, if not the best, and we had them beat for 40 minutes of that game except the last nine seconds," said Pargo, who battled leg cramps most of the second half. "We had every opportunity to win that game. Mistakes killed us, killed me."
- Perhaps more disappointing was the absence of Matt Bouldin from this game. I am starting to worry that Matt's lack of athleticism could potentially make him ineffective against most of the top teams in the country. In 29 minutes of action, Bouldin scored 6 points and committed 3 turnovers. Matt seemed out of rhythm throughout the game, and I am hoping that he will soon break his trend of disappearing in big games.
- At some point, Coach Few and the staff need to develop a different strategy for how this team plays with a lead. I'm not sure why it happens, but against top team, the Zags have an inherent inability to hold a lead. With 11 minutes remaining in this game, GU had an 11 point lead. Unfortunately, once Gonzaga had established this lead, they completely changed the way they were playing. The Zags stopped attacking the basket and playing at an up-and-down tempo. Instead, the Zags were playing not to lose, instead of playing not to win. The mark of a great team is that they go for a kill when their opponent is down. This attitude is something that Coach Few has not yet instilled into this program, and for the Zags to be a championship contender, that has got to change.
Gonzaga fans wandered into the snow wondering when the Zags and coach Mark Few will learn how to close out a game. In a game that could have gone a long way toward gaining a No. 1 seed, Gonzaga squandered an 11-point lead
- The injuries to Rob and Grant finally caught up with the Zags. There is no way Gonzaga would have ben forced to use a lineup of Pargo, Gray, Ira, Will, and Meech had these two been healthy enough to play. With Micah, Austin, and Matt all fouled out, Rob and Grant could have provided the type of depth and energy to propel this team to victory. Hopefully, Will Foster can continue to contribute and provide minutes for this team, because Rob might not be coming back anytime soon.
What positives can the Zags take from this loss:
- This team has the toughness to compete against tough Big East contenders. The Big East has long had the reputation of being the toughest and most physical conference in the country. Today, the Zags proved that there is no team in the country that will out-tough them. I was most impressed with the play of Micah Downs and Austin Daye. These two guys played with great intensity on the defensive end. Micah continues to be a force on the glass, and it seems that he has found his shooting touch.
- Steven Gray played the best game of his young Gonzaga career. Gray has been in a slump throughout the season on the offensive end, and it was fantastic to see him play at such a high level. Steven demonstrated just how complete of an offensive game he possesses, as he scored on the drive and from beyond the arc. Even more impressive for Steven was that he was able to collect 7 rebounds to go along with his 23 points. This was a tremendous performance by Steven, and hopefully it is a preview for the rest of this season.
While this was a tough loss, I suggest Gonzaga fans take this quote from Micah Downs to heart.
"We had the game. We just have to move on and get ready for the rest of our schedule."
And this great quote from UConn coach Jim Calhoun
"They are a major-major basketball team. I don't want to hear anymore about them being a mid-major," Calhoun said. "We've played them what, four or five times, and every game has been tough."