It seems almost perfect that in order for Gonzaga to win the WCC title outright, the Zags will have the opportunity to knock off a team that embarrassed them in their first meeting this season, While the loss to USF on January 30th was tough to swallow because of the huge talent gap between these teams, it was the overall effort level and hustle level that seemed to be missing that made this loss particularly galling.
Since the loss at USF, Gonzaga has been in a bit of a "Jekyll and Hyde" mode, showing glimpses of the potential that has so many of us high on this time, while also coming out flat and lifeless in a disappointing loss to LMU. My sincerest hope is that after the LMU debacle, this team learned the importance of showing up and playing each game like it could be their last, which certainly isn't far from the truth and this point of the season.
While the sample size is certainly small, the two games since the LMU loss have been particularly impressive, with the Zags coming out and establishing their dominance at the opening tip. While I'm not sure we will see another start like the one against Santa Clara, the important thing is that this team continues to show improvement and focus for 40 minutes, because the NCAA tournament is looming, and if they show up without their best effort, this season will be over very fast.
One of the unique aspects of playing USF is that they have a legitimate BCS caliber player in Dior Lowhorn. While this may seem like a small thing, matching up against guys like Lowhorn and Omar Samhan can be incredibly valuable for this team, since that is the type of talent the front court will see in the NCAA Tournament. In the first meeting this season, Gonzaga had a lot of trouble with Lowhorn, as he scored 22 points and grabbed nine boards. I am certainly hoping that the combination of Robert Sacre, Foster, Elias Harris, and Olynyk can be more effective in limiting his looks and frankly just playing at a higher level on the defensive end over the course of 40 minutes.
While it may be naive and foolish of me to believe this, I feel that the team has learned the lesson from the losses to LMU and USF. The focus level is higher, and I think there is a sense that each opponent must be looked at as if they are the #1 ranked team in the country. When Gonzaga takes this approach into a game, this group is pretty darn tough to beat due to the improved defensive performance and the variety of ways they can score on the offensive end of the court. With these good vibes in the air, I believe that fans will see Gonzaga cut down the nets after the 80-63 victory.
For anyone who is at the game.....please let us know if Tony Smith passes the eye test. He will be sitting under the hoop closest to the Gonzaga bench, and he is a guy that both Zach B and I are quite high on. Hopefully he enjoys seeing another WCC championship come to Spokane.