For reasons somewhat unknown to me, end of year lists pop up everywhere to close the book on the year that was. But with Gonzaga’s first two WCC games postponed due to COVID protocols within the program and its opponents, here we are.
There hasn’t been much to write home about in the last year from a larger global perspective, but it has been a very good time if you root for Gonzaga basketball despite the fact that the coveted national championship didn’t quite manifest. Let’s take a look back and recount some of the very best moments of the year (Note: Corey Kispert’s 9 made threes against Virginia just missed the list since he did it on 12/26/20). Of course, the following are just one individual’s perspective, so please share your own in the comments below:
5. Drew Timme’s 37-point Demolition of Texas (11/13/21)
In the second game of Gonzaga’s current season, Drew Timme did not miss his opportunity to make a statement against the University of Texas, his home state’s school, and he barely missed a shot in a 15-18 performance from the field for 37 points in one of the most casually dominant performances I’ve seen from a college basketball player. Chris Beard and his teams hang their hat on defense, but the Longhorns had no answers for Timme in a loss that dropped them out of the Top-5 of the AP Poll.
4. Zags Erase 12-point Halftime Deficit Against BYU in WCC Championship Game (3/9/21)
The men’s team coasted through most of the 2020-21 season during its undefeated run, with only one game decided by single digits to this point, before getting (figuratively) punched in the mouth by the Cougars to open the WCC Championship en route to a 53-41 halftime deficit. The Cougars went on an 11-0 run as Gonzaga’s defense looked completely exposed headed into the NCAA Tournament. The Zags showed their mettle in the second half, led by Corey Kispert and Jalen Suggs. Kispert 14 of his 17 points in the second half, while Suggs took over in the closing minutes with consecutive threes to stretch Gonzaga’s lead to nine points with just over a minute to play. That the Zags won this game by 10 points despite the double-digit deficit at the half set them up for another Final Four run.
3. Joel Ayayi Becomes First Zag to Complete a Triple Double (1/9/21)
As the conductor of the Joel Ayayi Express, there was no chance that I left Ayayi’s magnificent performance against Portland off this list. The Zags won easily to the tune of 116-88, but the only story from that win was Ayayi delivering the program’s first triple-double with a line of 12 points, 13 rebounds, and 14 assists to go with zero turnovers (ZERO!). That’s a truly absurd stat line, highlighted by the fact that the 14 assists were the second-highest tally in program history behind only a 16-assist performance from Blake Stepp. Considering the phenomenal point guards that have come through the program, for that figure to come in a triple-double performance speaks to Ayayi’s talent. #A11aboard forever.
2. Jill Townsend Hits a Buzzer Beater in the WCC Tournament Title Game to Beat BYU 43-42 (3/9/21)
Nine months later, I still don’t know how the women’s team found a way to win this game. The Zags had put together a fantastic season, entering the WCC tournament with only three losses, but a stomach bug hit the team at the worst time and caused starters LeeAnne Wirth to miss the game while limiting Townsend and Cierra Walker to a few spot minutes. The Zags shot 17% from the field and committed 12 turnovers in the first half, and entered the fourth quarter trailing by 9 points. The defense held BYU to only 6 points in the last quarter which set the stage for Townsend’s buzzer beater with 0.6 seconds left to deliver another WCC championship for Gonzaga.
1. Jalen Suggs Hits a Buzzer Beater in OT to send Gonzaga to the National Championship Game (4/3/21)
Could there be any other moment for 2021? Don’t think so. Considering the circumstances—a Final Four tilt against one of the most decorated programs in college basketball during an undefeated season—this shot will go down as one of the all-time tournament moments and one we will see replayed for decades to come. Of course, the next game didn’t work out as planned to cap off the perfect season, but never mind that, this shot is an incredible addition in the pantheon of Gonzaga basketball history.
Honorable Mention: This Jalen Suggs Pass