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A Thank You to the Seniors

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Farewell

Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review

This post was originally a Film Room study on Gonzaga’s defense against Jordan Ford in the WCC Title game. It was going to be posted on Thursday morning. It quickly became clear that it would be completely irrelevant. The season ended less than 48 hours after Gonzaga hoisted their WCC Tournament crown.

And now we will never have closure on the season, a season where Gonzaga ended with the best record in the country and the number one spot in the NCAA NET rankings. A season where they had as good a chance as anyone to win their first National Title. And even worse, there is no closure on the senior seasons of Ryan Woolridge, Admon Gilder, and Killian Tillie. Assuming the NCAA doesn’t grant them another year of eligibility, we will never see them suit up in a Gonzaga uniform again. They didn’t get to determine their own fate.

On the women’s side, Jessie Loera never got the chance to rebound from the Bulldogs’ loss in the WCC semi-finals and perhaps make the second weekend for the first time in five years. Katie Campbell doesn’t get the chance to root on her teammates at least one more time after they have supported her through her knee injury. Both women didn’t get to end their careers on their own terms. But both of them helped lift Gonzaga to new heights, propelling them to their highest AP ranking in history and the best seeding in tournament history last year. Loera bided her time behind Laura Stockton before becoming a senior leader this season. Campbell did it all while raising a daughter. Both of them deserve praise for what they’ve brought to the Gonzaga community.

On the men’s side, Woolridge, a grad transfer from North Texas, struck a chord with everyone on Thursday when he tweeted: “So you telling me I transferred to not play in the tournament.” Woolridge helped North Texas win the CBI in 2018, but had never reached the NCAA Tournament. He came to Gonzaga to prove to the world that his talent level was on par with the best players in the nation. And he did that. He may be the quickest transition player on the West Coast. He was the only true point guard on a team that needed his steady leadership all season. He locked up Peyton Pritchard and Nico Mannion early in the season and was typically a bright spot on a rather inconsistent defense. He bought in to the Gonzaga culture and became a fan favorite instantly, perhaps one of the most enjoyable grad transfers in school history because of the edge he brought on the court. He never got his shot at the NCAA Tournament, but he will always be a loved and respected Zag.

Admon Gilder made the biggest sacrifice possible when he chose Gonzaga. He left his three-year-old daughter to head to Spokane and begin a new journey. After battling a blood clot, injuries, and working his way back into shape, Gilder really became an X-Factor down the stretch of the season. He had the best offensive rating of his career and accepted his role as a fire starter off the bench. He used his strength and size to shut down Jordan Ford in the second half of their final two games against Saint Mary’s. His quiet confidence and ultimate team-first mentality (and maybe the headband, too) drew him to Gonzaga fans. He never got a chance for perhaps his first Final Four, but Gonzaga fans will never forget the hard work he put in to get healthy and the personal sacrifices he made to be a Zag.

And then there’s Killian Tillie, perhaps one of the strangest and most incredible careers in Gonzaga history. As a freshman, he was part of the eight-man rotation that led Gonzaga to their first Final Four and hit two cold-blooded free throws to send the Zags to the Title game. As a sophomore, he was one of the most productive players in the entire country. He had the best offensive rating in the conference, finished as a KenPom MVP in six of Gonzaga’s final nine games prior to the tournament, and we all remember his unbelievable three-point barrage in Las Vegas. Gonzaga was primed for possibly another Final Four run before Tillie went down with a hip injury prior to their Sweet 16 game against Florida State.

He was on pace to go pro, but the injury forced him back to Gonzaga. But he wasn’t ready to start the 2018 season. He missed the first 15 games while Brandon Clarke showcased his talents. He returned to play nine games before getting hurt again. When he returned for the postseason, you could tell he wasn’t fully there yet, despite his monster game against Fairleigh Dickinson.

Again, he could have gone pro. But he fought his way back to play another year at Gonzaga. He finished his career in the 1,000-point club. He’s eighth in GU history in three-point percentage. He’s the only player in program history to go at least 5-for-5 from deep and he did it in back-to-back games. He went to three Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights, a Final Four, and a National Title. Gonzaga’s record when he was on the court was 99-9.

He had one of the most remarkable careers in Gonzaga history and the lack of finality and closure to his career is what hurts most of all. He had unfinished business. He worked through multiple injuries this season just to have a chance to finish that business in March. And he won’t get that chance. That sucks. It sucks for him, it sucks for the fans, it sucks for his teammates and coaches. But his perseverance, love for the game, and commitment to this community make him the perfect example of what it means to be a Zag and we are forever grateful for the four years he spent in Spokane.