As the final seconds ticked off the clock, I began to realize that Thursday provided one of the least pleasant victories since I have started following Gonzaga. The typical excitement that comes with a Gonzaga victory was replaced by a feeling of relief that the Zags didn't make the worst kind of history. While the reaction on Twitter was dismay and frustration, my main thought after letting the game settle was that Gonzaga was now in the position to make the run that many fans hope is coming.
It became pretty clear just minutes into the game that the weight of being a No.1 seed was impacting this team. Instead of the typical flowing offense and consistent fast break, we saw a team that was hesitant to take big shots and made numerous mental mistakes. Every minute the game stayed closer, you could see the team tighten and the neutrals in the crowd begin to start root for history. However, the second the final buzzer went off, all the pressure of being the No.1 seed evaporated.
With the Round of 32 set to kick off tomorrow, GU can return to the team that we all enjoyed watching this season. Instead of focusing on doing everything possible to be the team not to make history, the Zags can return their focus to making program history. As, Matt Norlander pointed out in his story today, the team is doing its best to not feel the pressure that comes with the historic seeding:
"We know people are talking," Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk said. "People have their own expectations, their own insights about what we should and could accomplish -- and we have our own. ... We're just a big family right now and none of us want to stop playing with each other."
This comes off much different than Kevin Pangos after the Southern game:
"I’d be lying if I said it didn’t," Pangos said, when asked if doubt was creeping into his head. "Of course, it did a little bit,"
This emphasizes the fact that many of us were caught up in celebrating being a one-seed, but didn't realize the pressure and expectations that come with it. While fans were focusing on the program accomplishing something it never had in its history, the team and coaches were dealing with the pressure of a brand new level of expectations.
When the Zags tip off tomorrow, sit back and enjoy the team that many of us think (including this author) can take the program where it has never been. If this team can capture the swagger and fun that they exhibited for the first five months, there is no reason the Southern game won't be the first step in a tremendous journey we all remember.