It’s Feb. 28, 2015, and Gonzaga is rolling at 29-1. Beat BYU at home tonight to cap off another perfect WCC season, make it to 30 wins then, after an inevitable WCC tourney championship, secure a #1 seed in an NCAA tournament bracket. After the Arizona loss way back on Dec. 6, 2014, GU had really only been challenged in two other games; at Pepperdine on Jan. 15 and a huge aura polishing comeback against St Mary’s a week earlier. GU was on cruise control and the road to the NCAA tournament was clear.
We all know what happened next, an unexpected, jaw-dropping, but extremely valuable loss. GU may not have lost their edge, but it had sure gotten duller slicing through their plucky but outmatched WCC competition. The BYU loss hurt, stung hard, but it seemed to help the team refocus. Moving forward, they beat their opponents in the WCC tournament and the first three rounds of the NCAAs by an average of 14 points.
I saw Mark Few being interviewed about the Baylor scrimmage on television. He told the local reporter being man-handled by Baylor was a good wake-up call for the team, then he pointed to the ceiling’s hanging banners. Few emphasized winning the WCC and making the NCAA tournament was a process requiring hard work and preparation, banners don’t hang themselves. This could be the most talented team in GU history and figuring out the best way to utilize that talent may take some time. I think we saw an example of that last night.
Think about this for a second; when the starting line-up takes the floor against Pitt, two of these four players will be sitting on the bench: Sabonis, Melson, EMac or Dranginis. We fans have spent the past six months discussing line-ups, substitution patterns, and how many minutes player X should get per game. These are real issues Mark Few and the coaching staff are going to have to figure out, along with factoring in the unforeseen variable of illness and injuries. It’s going to be a process. It may take a while, and is probably going to require some tweaking throughout the year. As painful as it would be for us fans to swallow, an early season loss may be the best way to demonstrate something just doesn’t work, while prompting the staff to figure out how to fix it and ensure it doesn’t reoccur.
Yeah, if GU gets beat by Pitt I’ll be embarrassed. If they drop a game in the Battle 4 Atlantis I’ll be upset. If they lose at home to Arizona I’m going to be pissed off. I ’m just hoping I’ll be able to keep it in perspective. I’ll keep reminding myself there are three new starters, that it may take time to figure out how to utilize the talent, and the ultimate goal is working towards March. Oh yeah, and sometimes a loss, no matter how painful, can have value.