Last night, the Gonzaga Bulldogs did it once again, taking everything the TCU Horned Frogs could deliver and muscling past for another trip to the Sweet 16. That makes it eight-straight Sweet 16 trips, the longest such streak in the country and the third-longest streak in the modern era of the NCAA Tournament, behind Duke (1998-2006) and North Carolina (1985-1993).
Some games have been blowouts. Others have been heart-stoppers. Let’s celebrate and rank them because that is what the internet does nowadays.
1) 2016: No. 11 Gonzaga 82, No. 3 Utah 59
As interesting as people have thought this season went for the Zags, it doesn’t compare to the 2015-16 season. That year, Gonzaga basically dropped every major non-conference game, lost to BYU at home, and lost both games to Saint Mary’s. They were as much of a bubble team as a bubble team can get and truly only made the conference thanks to a WCC Tournament win.
The matchup against the Utah Utes was hyped because of two players: The Zags’ Domantas Sabonis and Utah’s Jakob Poltl. Sabonis easily won, scoring 19 points and holding Poeltl to just five. Eric McClellan poured in 22 and the Zags owned this game from the first half on, outscoring Utah 20-9 in the final 10 minutes of the first half to lead 44-29. In terms of Sweet 16 wins, this was probably the easiest one on the list. So why put it No. 1? Underdog wins just feel so good and it was the last time we have felt like that as a fanbase.
2) 2022 No. 1 Gonzaga 82, No. 9 Memphis 78
This game will go down in history because of Drew Timme’s famous post-game “no soft guys” interview. Like last night, it is one of the shining caps in his prolific March career of big games at big times. The Zags entered halftime trailing against a lengthy, athletic, and talented Memphis Tigers featuring Jalen Duren, who would be the No. 13 pick in the 2022 NBA Draft.
The Zags game out of halftime and went to Timme again, again, again, again, and again. Timme scored 11-straight points to help close a 10 point gap to three. Andrew Nembhard would add 23 and this one was as an absolute nail-biter.
3) 2023: No. 3 Gonzaga 84, No. 6 TCU 81
Maybe it is because this game just happened last night, but considering how hard-fought it was, and to a certain extent, how it was the perfect distillation of this season, it deserves to be ranked pretty high. Once again, the Zags got a heroic effort from Timme, who finished with 28 points despite missing some time on the bench nursing a couple of fouls. He even hit the biggest three-pointer of his life to give the Zags momentum in the win.
This game was a brawl. But the Zags, for the better part of the season, have answered these dogfights with the best of them. It is also a prime example of how these Zags can dig down deep to win. Malachi Smith hit a big shot at every time the Zags needed one. Anton Watson was a menace on the offensive glass in the second half. Rasir Bolton, big shot Ra, helped provide the scoring from the outside. It was a wild game in the most wild tournament in the most wild year.
4) 2017: No. 1 Gonzaga 79, No. 8 Northwestern 73
In general, No. 1 seeds aren’t the crowd favorites, especially when your opponent is in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. In terms of memes, Gonzaga continued a strong game with the introduction of crying Northwestern kid. In reality, this game was largely garbage, but its inclusion as one of the eight top games serves a point: March is very mad.
Northwestern very well could have won this game. Gonzaga led by 22 at one point in the second half. After letting both teams play basketball for the first 20 minutes, the refs became trigger happy on the whistles in the second half, in coherent and completely incoherent ways. With Northwestern on the cusp of a big run, Zach Collins legitimately blocked a shot from inside the hoop (a completely legal basketball play and I will never be told otherwise). Northwestern head coach Chris Collins stormed the court during play for a well earned technical on the missed call, and momentum was permanently altered for the Zags to escape.
5) 2019: No. 1 Gonzaga 83, No. 9 Baylor 71
Let’s just call this the Brandon Clarke dunk show. Clarke finished with 36 points, a school record for most points in a NCAA Tournament game, and pretty much cemented why he would be a future NBA player on the national stage.
6) No. 4 Gonzaga 90, No. 5 Ohio State 84
In all reality, this game probably deserves to be ranked higher due to the excitement of the second half. But that in itself is also what tosses it down the list a bit, because the Zags theoretically were going to coast to an easy win. The Zags opened the game with a 15-0 run and looked well on their way to coasting to a simple win. Then, the offense completely cratered. The Buckeyes entered halftime trailing by 11, but in the final five minutes of the game, Zach Norvell, the second-half microwave, made his appearance.
this stepback trey by Zach Norvell pic.twitter.com/97Ibo5fpL2— Sam Cooper (@SamDCooper) March 18, 2018
In a long line of legitimate scorers, I’m still not sure the Zags have seen one quite as hungry as Norvell. In the previous game, Norvell was just 3-of-12 from the floor. But a shooter is always going to shoot. Norvell hit six threes in this contest, finishing with a game-high 28 points. Combined with Rui Hachimura’s 25, the Zags came back from a second-half collapse to take one of their harder-fought wins in this streak.
7) No. 2 Gonzaga 87, No. 7 Iowa 68
To be totally honest, I don’t remember a single thing about this game. Looking back at the box score, both Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos hit four threes, and the Zags just buried Iowa under a relentlessly efficient scoring outburst—1.30 points per possession. That is a WCC line right there.
8) 2021: No. 1 Gonzaga 87, No. 8 Oklahoma 71
The weirdest year and also one of the more normal games one could expect in the NCAA Tournament. To a certain extent, this was about as pedestrian of a NCAA Tournament game as possible. The top-seeded Gonzaga team facing off against an overmatched Oklahoma squad, and it went just like that. Timme dropped 30 points as the Zags slowly but steadily owned the Sooners over the course of 40 minutes. Easy wins are great in the NCAA Tournament, but they make for less memories in the process.