Four years ago, the No. 7 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs suffered a heart-breaking loss at Key Arena to UConn. This was a game that the Zags led by 11 and ultimately lost due to a costly turnover near the end of regulation. Instead of bouncing back with two very winnable games, that team suffered an embarrassing home loss to Portland St. and a last-second loss to Utah in its next two games. While it finished the season strong, those three losses played an integral role in Gonzaga being a 4-seed in the NCAA Tournament and facing an unfortunate matchup with UNC in the Sweet 16.
On the heels of a "tough" loss at Butler, this team heads home for two key WCC games that will reveal a lot about their mental toughness. At this point, the Zags are still a Top 10 team that has an impressive non-conference resume and has the potential to be a two or three seed with a strong finish over the next six weeks. However, this BYU team is going to be hungry for a signature win when it comes to Spokane.
This game became even more important for the Cougars after their buzzer-beating loss at home to St. Mary's. BYU was able to show strong resolve by bouncing back from that defeat with a convincing win over USD. While I would have preferred to have Gonzaga face a lower-tier WCC team on Thursday, this game will give a great glimpse into the mental fortitude this group has. If this team is as special as many of us think it might be, the hope would be that it comes out and delivers a dominant performance that proves the Butler game was nothing more than extra motivation to dominate the WCC.
Mental strength and toughness has been a question mark for this Gonzaga program. Despite the tremendous success, many national pundits have long-believed that when it gets tough, the Zags will fold. This team has a chance to dispel that notion tonight. However, if BYU comes into the Kennel and leaves with a victory, we may be wondering if this is just another soft team.