The loss to the BYU Cougars at home was a long time coming.
Not in the sense that BYU was destined to roll in and defeat the Zags for the second consecutive time in Spokane. No, that was hardly in the record books. What was destined, however, was Gonzaga to drop a game in conference play. And most likely, there will be another, and probably another.
First off, the Zags still have BYU at the Marriott Center, and Saint Mary's on the road as well. There is nothing to suggest, at the moment, that this team will be able to pull off those wins in that harsh road environment. Is that necessarily a bad thing? Not really. If you look across to every other conference in the nation, even the best teams lose on the road to conference teams. Granted, other conferences are better than the WCC, but we all know that on almost any given year, games on the road against BYU and Saint Mary's are hardly gimmes.
But last night's loss showcased what we all knew was true, and maybe weren't ready to accept yet. This Gonzaga squad is short handed. They are loaded up on transfers for next year, and next year they should hit the ground running without skipping a beat. But before we hit next year, we have to make it through this year. At the rate we are going, it looks like we will barely slog it through next year.
The backbone of this team is Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, and they make for a great couple. But when one of the two goes down, as Sabonis did for foul trouble against BYU, Gonzaga's weaknesses are ruthlessly exposed. This isn't a deep team. There are only eight scholarship players on this team capable of playing at the moment. But for some reason, only three or four are ever deciding to show up to play in one game at a time. If this continues, the whole season is doomed, a lot earlier than any of us are ever used to.
Hope isn't lost, however. The Zags still have a matchup on the road against the SMU Mustangs. Win a game agains the only undefeated team in the nation, and you have basically punched your ticket to the NCAA Tournament. After that, it truly is going to be a WCC Tournament or bust. The Zags have had opportunities to make statements, and each time they have failed to capitalize.
Sure, there is the game against UConn, but UConn has recent losses against Temple and Tulsa. When you look at the Zags resume you have that..and nothing else.
This is unfamiliar territory to be in as a Zags fan. We aren't used to being up on the ropes. It hasn't been since the 2010-11 season that a team has left us so frustrated, and that team lost three-consecutive WCC games to put is in that position. We haven't even stooped that low yet, but the faint markings of the writing are on the wall.
Which means that all we can do, right now, is buckle in and figure out how to cheer our brains out. This season isn't over, by any stretch of the word. But it is being pushed into a corner we aren't used to. How the team, and the fanbase, responds, will be quite interesting to watch.