Since the brackets were revealed a week ago, I had been having an internal debate about whether or not I should make the journey from Denver to Salt Lake City to see Gonzaga play their first game as a No. 1 seed. Tickets weren't an issue - plenty were available as you could tell from the spattering of unfilled green seats at the EnergySolutions Arena. Against my strongest desires, I abstained from making the trip for one major reason - I've been a bit of a jinx. I sat dumbfounded in Oakland in 2006 as Gonzaga choked away an Elite Eight bid against UCLA and I was jumping for joy as it looked like Gonzaga was going to escape Hinkle Fieldhouse with a win before the inbounds pass that will live in infamy happeend.
So, I stayed in Denver and watched with friends and as the clock hit zero last night, my belief in superstition for the most part went out the window.
Gonzaga's stunning (I'm avoiding the other word as I'm tired of the pun) loss to Wichita State last night will be hard to get over. While we have all gotten used to the March disappointments, I can't remember a loss that left me as heartbroken as last night's. The rest of the country will use this as their "HA! Told you they were overrated" moment but that is largely an opinion based on stereotypes. Gonzaga had a dream season. A year that should be remembered fondly as the year when the Zags broke through and not only captured a No. 1 seed but ended the regular season as the No. 1 team in the nation.
Unfortunately, last night's result will dampen some of the best memories from this season. In college basketball, a series of six games in March and April can override months and months of work and, in Gonzaga's case, such an amazing season can come to a screeching halt and leave you feeling, well, sick.
By no means am I saying that the system is unfair but it is cruel and fickle. The fact of the matter is that Gonzaga simply did not play their best basketball in March. While the Zags should have assumed the role of the intimidator in the tournament, they often times appeared out of sorts, rushed, and just struggled to put together a consistent effort. All the credit in the world should go to the Shockers. They shot incredibly well, going 14-28 from behind the arc, well above what their season average was and they were insanely efficient down the stretch as they made their final five three-point attempts to bury the Bulldogs.
As fans, we were all expecting this to be the postseason in which Gonzaga put to rest their 'choker' label. Whether or not that label is fair is a topic for another day but this loss certainly does nothing to help - it just further amplifies it. Watching the game, it is hard for me to call last night a choke but it certainly wasn't this team's best performance and that is what is required this time of year if you want to become immortal.
I've done the blame game thing in the past but I will leave that to the rest of the country to do, as they already are. If you are looking for a paragraph in which I bash Mark Few for another March disappointment, I apologize and guess you can call me a homer. Without a doubt in my mind, this is one of the top teams to ever collectively wear Gonzaga uniforms and they should be celebrated as such.
The sad part is that it is over. It genuinely makes me stomach do flips thinking about the fact that I just saw Elias Harris and Mike Hart play their final game at Gonzaga. The questions about whether or not Kelly Olynyk will return make me even more nauseous. More than anything, however, it is just unfortunate that we'll never get to see this group play the game together again as I've had more fun this season than I have in a really, really long time.