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March Madness 2022: Looking back through Gonzaga’s seven-straight Sweet 16 trips

Since 2015, the Zags have been in the second weekend each year.

West Virginia v Gonzaga Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

When the Gonzaga Bulldogs defeated the Memphis Tigers on Saturday, the Zags moved onto the Sweet 16 for the seventh-straight NCAA Tournament.

It is an elite level of company, bested only by UCLA (14 - 1967-1980), North Carolina (13 - 1981-1993), and Duke (1998-2006). The seven-straight Sweet 16 appearances tie Gonzaga with Duke (again 1986-1992) for the fourth-longest in tournament history.

If Gonzaga wins, that will mark three consecutive Elite Eight appearances, which ties Drake, Houston, Kansas, Kentucky, Memphis, Michigan State, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio State, San Francisco, Santa Clara, UCLA, and UNLV for fourth-longest in tournament history.

The NCAA Tournament is all just one game at a time, however, so let’s take a trip down memory lane at each of the past Sweet 16 games.

2015: No. 2 Gonzaga, 74; No. 11 UCLA, 62

After four years of the Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. backcourt show, the Zags were finally back in the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009 and looking to advance for the first time since the initial 1999 “Slipper Still Fits” run. The addition of graduate-transfer Byron Wesley gave the Zags a solid winger, but the biggest addition was Kentucky-transfer Kyle Wiltjer, ready and roaring to go after his redshirt year.

UCLA v Gonzaga Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

This game was the Przemek Karnowski show, however. The junior mountain of a man finished with 18 points on 8-for-11 shooting, nine rebounds, and two blocks. The Zags had to battle for this win, as the outside shots were not falling. Pangos and Wiltjer combined to go 1-for-10 from long range, but the Zags made up the difference on the offensive glass, gathering 18 boards and only turning the ball over five times. Those two things are almost guaranteed for a win each game.

2016: No. 11 Gonzaga, 60; No. 11 Syracuse, 63

The hallmark of the 2015-16 season for Gonzaga was grit and it’s unfortunate that it ended at the hands of the Syracuse zone because this loss hurts. After losing Pangos, Bell, and Wesley to graduation, the backcourt was officially turned over to freshmen Josh Perkins and Silas Melson. With a senior Wiltjer, a sophomore breakout in Domantas Sabonis, and a senior Karnowski, high expectations would still be around.

Karnowski injured his back and his season ended early. The Zags lacked depth to provide any meaningful relief for Perkins, graduate transfer Eric McClellan, and Melson, with freshman Bryan Alberts there to provide spot minutes. In 2016, the Zags run of NCAA Tournaments was nearly upended, and Gonzaga needed to win the WCC Tournament to even make it in the first place.

After upsetting the No. 3 Utah Utes, the Zags faced another party crasher, and boy was this a frustrating game. Just look at that win percentage chart.

Turnovers doomed Gonzaga, who throughout much of the contest did barely just enough to stay ahead. But the Syracuse zone did its job, holding Gonzaga without a field goal for the final six-plus minutes of the game. Wiltjer finished with 23 points and Sabonis added 19. The rest of the squad could only muster 18 points.

2017: No. 1 Gonzaga, 61; No. 4 West Virginia, 58

The Zags had earned their No. 1 seed for the second year and faced a criminally underseeded West Virginia team in the Sweet 16. The Mountaineers were ranked No. 7 by KenPom and boasted a defense that forced turnovers on over 25% of opponent’s possessions. They lived up to the nightmare their scouting report suggested.

The two teams traded baskets for nearly the entirety of the game, entering halftime tied at 30. The Zags were able to hit a little bit of a stride and build an eight-point lead with over 13 minutes remaining, but West Virginia chipped away and put themselves in a position to win, leading by three points, 58-55, with 1:47 remaining. What came next is one of the most insane swing sequences in Gonzaga tournament history and some of the best end of game defending from Nigel Williams-Goss.

2018: No. 4 Gonzaga, 60; No. 9 Florida State, 75

This game was doomed right before tip-off, when it was announced that Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie, arguably the best/most versatile player in the starting lineup, would miss the game with a hip injury suffered during warmups. Florida State, rolling off an upset of No. 1 Xavier, featured a deep and tall rotation known for causing havoc on the defensive end.

Florida State v Gonzaga Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Florida State opened the game strong, but Gonzaga fought back immediately, going on a 15-0 run and eventually taking the lead 29-28 with a shade under five minutes remaining. It would be the last time Gonzaga led in the game. The Gonzaga bigs of Rui Hachimura and Johnathan Williams, hampered by foul trouble throughout the game, could not get anything going and the Zags season ended on a down note.

2019: No. 1 Gonzaga, 72; No. 4 Florida State, 58

For the second-straight year, the Zags faced off against the Seminoles in the Sweet 16. Only this time, the Zags were fully healthy, and they had Brandon Clarke. Florida State still ran a deep rotation, but the rotation wasn’t as talented top to bottom as it was in previous years. The Seminoles also had zero answers for Clarke’s interior defense, who blocked five shots and grabbed 12 rebounds.

Gonzaga slowly, but steadily, put this game away, and you knew things were going well when the first half finished on this note:

2020: Error cannot divide by COVID-19

Gonzaga was looking at a No. 1 seed and probably would’ve made the Sweet 16 and more, but then who knows what would’ve happened with players returning, in 2021, etc. No what-ifs allowed here.

2021: No. 1 Gonzaga, 83; No. 5 Creighton, 65

And will you look at that, we are all the way up to last year, in which we witnessed yet another stellar March game from the likes of Drew Timme. Timme scored 22 points on 10-for-13 shooting, but his ORtg got dragged down a bit by four turnovers. Luckily, Andrew Nembhard was there to chip in 17 points off 7-for-9 shooting, with four rebounds, eight assists, and just one turnover.

This game was all Gonzaga, all the time. Creighton did not lead for a single second.

Creighton v Gonzaga Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

2022: No. 1 Gonzaga, ?; No. 4 Arkansas, ?

So here we are. Gonzaga needed everything in its arsenal to pull past Memphis in their highly entertaining 82-78 second round game. Arkansas scored 53 points, just enough to edge past New Mexico State’s 48, in a much different game of basketball.

According to DraftKings, the Zags are a 9.5-point favorite.

Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See for details.