Just when you think Gonzaga may take a step back, they take another leap forward instead. Mark Few and Lisa Fortier, along with their coaching staffs, have led the Gonzaga Bulldogs to a combined 38-2 record this season, the best in the nation. Baylor is a combined 32-2, while nobody else is even remotely close.
If anyone said they expected this coming into the season, they would be liars or eternally optimistic. Six of the eight players in Mark Few’s rotation last year are now playing professionally. It is, inarguably, the most talented team Gonzaga has ever had. Despite losing all of that, they lead the nation with 20 wins, have the best offense in the country, and spent the last month as the number one team in the land. They are going to play their first two games in Spokane, and if all goes well, they should make a sixth straight Sweet 16. With a relatively down year in college basketball, a Final Four is certainly in the cards. And they are doing it with six new rotation players, over half of which have battled injuries all year.
On the women’s side, Laura Stockton, Chandler Smith and Zykera Rice graduated from the most successful regular season team in Gonzaga history. They leaped to their highest AP ranking ever and grabbed a five seed in the NCAA Tournament, also a program best. After losing three senior starters, it would be natural to have a transition year of sorts. Not with this team. The Wirth twins dominate inside, Jessie Loera has filled Stockton’s shoes at point guard, Jill Townsend has become an even more dynamic playmaker, and the Troung twins are clearly going to be a huge part of the program moving forward. They are 18-1, with their only loss in overtime at Stanford. They have moved up to 13th in the latest AP Poll, and look poised to host the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
And the scariest part? Both of these teams look like they could be even better next season, at least on paper. The women’s team only has two seniors, albeit Loera and Katie Campbell, their two starting guards. But with the emergence of the Truongs and Vanderbilt transfer Cierra Walker gaining eligibility, they shouldn’t miss a beat. The Wirths in their senior years, along with Townsend, Walker, and Kayleigh Truong will make up perhaps the best starting five the program has seen. Oh yeah, and they have another top 75 recruit coming in next year in McKayla Williams. They also picked up commitments from Yvonne Ejim, who averaged 25 points and 15 rebounds last season and is ranked the second best forward in Canada, along with Australian guard Lily Scanlon.
The Gonzaga women have reached the Elite Eight just once, in 2011. They haven’t been to the Sweet 16 since 2015. It’s extremely possible they get to both this year, and even more likely next season. And who knows, maybe a women’s Final Four is on the table, too.
On the men’s side, they are bringing in their highest rated recruit ever in Jalen Suggs, along with explosive wing Julian Strawther and combo guard Dom Harris. The social media-named Tricky Trio has the goal of bringing a National Championship to Spokane. Add in Oumar Ballo, coming off an academic redshirt, and it could challenge for best recruiting class Mark Few and Co. have brought in. The off-season will be filled with questions regarding Filip Petrusev, Joel Ayayi and Corey Kispert’s return for next year. Even if just two of the three return, Gonzaga will be ranked in the top three to begin next season.
In 2013, it was amazing to see Gonzaga reach a new pinnacle, grabbing a number one ranking for the first time. In 2015, they finally broke through to the Elite Eight again. In 2017, it was the Final Four. And now, with the recruiting classes they keep churning out, it’s only a matter of time until they win a National Championship... and then perhaps another one shortly after.
In short, enjoy every minute of what is happening in Spokane right now. Every women’s game is streamed online. Get obsessed with that team as much as you are with the men’s program. Their defense is unbelievable. Every men’s game is easily accessible on television. Savor every moment of Greg Heister that you can. If you’re a current student, never take for granted what you’re witnessing in person because it wasn’t always like this. Getting North Carolina on campus was a pipe dream even five years ago. Go to as many games as you can because every alumni wishes they could go to another.
We’ve reached the Golden Era of Gonzaga basketball and there’s no signs of stopping the ascent any time soon. They aren’t a mid-major. They aren’t a Blue Blood. They are just Gonzaga, their own entity and a program unlike any other.