If you are like me, you probably ran the emotional gamut last night. The obvious things we all feel are initial shock, followed by anger and blame, and then some brief bouts of sadness. This morning, in all honesty, I woke up and just laughed. I think I had this reaction for a couple of reasons. First of all, it's just one of those losses that is so crazy that it's funny. The #8 team in the country loses to a program not even in the top 250 according to KenPom is just insane. The second component of my morning chuckle was still happiness because I know this team still has the components to be great.
I realize that I might be in the minority of fans that laughed the morning after such a loss but Gonzaga basketball has really prepared us for these kind of moments. Last year it was Portland State followed by Utah. Other years it has been Virginia, or LMU, or even this same San Francisco program. What I'm trying to say is that to be head over heels shocked at last night's loss would be the true delusion. Complacency is one of those things that is hard for teams to avoid when they are riding a nine game win streak and have beaten their best conference competition all on the road. That complacency can grow even more when you give subpar efforts but continue to win. If you watched the Pepperdine and Santa Clara games, you could tell that the Zags were already in "we show up, we win" mode.
Last night Dior Lowhorn and San Francisco called them on it. They hung around all game long and Dior Lowhorn elevated his game to a Devan Downey-esque performance where he just wasn't going to lose. Now it is Gonzaga's turn to respond. Last year we saw the Portland State loss really snowball into a rough stretch that saw the Zags lose to a pitiful Utah team. For whatever reason, I have full confidence that this team will respond with flair. It doesn't mean that improvements aren't needed however...I should give EDZ some credit for this post. Last night he texted me that he thought this was the best thing that could happen to this team and that we'd respond. Then, this morning as I was getting some perspective, I went back in our archives and stumbled upon this gem after Portland State and this one after Utah written by my fellow blog founder. Obviously the comparisons between last year's team and this year's team are few and far between. Only three legit holdovers, three new starters, and a virtually brand new bench have given our club a new attitude. The best thing we have going for us, however, might be that we've got a young team.
A year ago, EDZ questioned whether or not some of our star players had tuned Mark Few out and began to play for themselves. I'd rather not get into that but I think it is worth noting because now Coach Few and the staff has the opportunity to really impress upon these young players that they are not God's gift to the WCC. They will be tested game in, game out and they aren't talented enough yet to sleepwalk through 35 minutes. At the same time, I think it is important that the staff takes a good deal of responsibility for this loss. The seemingly planned spoon feeding of Robert Sacre in the post is good in doses but to completely ignore your most versatile player in Elias Harris is just poor coaching. It was remarkable how hard Harris had to work for his shots last night. It's important that we continue to find Elias in positions where he can create and not rely on him to make spectacular plays each time down.
Now that we've gotten the FEED HARRIS message out there, the next biggest part of a big response is the bench. My biggest concern is the mental mindset of our bench players. It appears that Will Foster can't get over 8-10 minutes a game no matter how he's playing. The rest of the guys are pulled the minute they miss a pair of shots. I really do wonder about the bench's confidence because they are seemingly looking over their shoulder after every missed shot because they know they are coming out. The first 10-15 minutes of each game seem to be a guess and check science experiment by Mark Few to see which guy he likes most each night. There has to be some sort of continuity with who plays each night. This is obviously a two way street between the players and coaching staff. Someone's got to step up but there are times when Few has to let someone in a funk like Bol or Kelly work their way out of it.
The next three games are now very intriguing. Before the year we expected a loss or two in conference but no one saw last night coming. Portland and Saint Mary's are both incredibly hot right now in conference play and they have got to be drooling at the thought of coming into K2 and knocking off the Zags. Sandwiched in between those two games is Memphis. While the Tigers are a program in flux, they are still arguably the biggest monkey on the back of Gonzaga as they've won each match up the last four years. You better believe the Memphis fan base will be as excited as ever to get Gonzaga at home because they are still searching for a marquee win that could lift them to another tournament appearance.
Mark Few now has plenty of ammo to fire his club up. He said in postgame interviews that his team was playing with fire because their intensity was low. There is no longer an excuse for this to happen again and I really do expect to see a ruthless Gonzaga team hit the floor against Portland. Anything less, and we could be talking about some serious problems.