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10 Observations from Gonzaga’s loss to UConn

The road stops here for the Zags

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament West Regional-UCONN vs Gonzaga Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that’s not what you wanted. In a game that could have used the console getting unplugged and reset, Gonzaga was absolutely dominated and trounced in the Elite Eight by the UConn Huskies, losing 82-54. The season ends in Vegas with the Zags finishing 31-6 on the year. Here are 10 observations from that game.

1. Drew Timme deserved better than this. From the lack of scoring around him to the most anticlimactic foul trouble imaginable, the environment of last night’s game undercut the best post-scoring big man in the modern era of college basketball. From an overzealous officiating crew to dismal shooting performances, the curtains dropped far too early and aggressively on a special talent.

2. Heading into the game, it felt eerily similar to the championship game in 2021. Gonzaga had just won against UCLA late in the game in an emotionally taxing battle. They would then play a team that absolutely obliterated their previous opponents throughout the tournament. Gonzaga having one of its worse shooting games was something they could not afford against the hottest team in the country.

3. Officiating is not why Gonzaga lost last night but it’s certainly why the game was not even remotely close. It was clear from the first two minutes of that game that the officials were going to emphasize Timme’s footwork throughout the game, calling him on two travel calls and subject to two off-ball touch fouls throughout the game. Anton Watson could not earn a whistle regardless of how many times his arm would be ripped while going up to shoot. Julian Strawther gets smoked in the chin going up on one end with no call, Timme gets reviewed for a flagrant on the next play because a Husky hooks and flops. The crew misses an obvious out-of-bounds tip. And so on and so on. Again, The UConn Huskies were the best team in that arena but the three referees on the court undoubtedly did not help the situation.

4. Last night was Gonzaga’s worst offensive performance on offense in decades. Per Heat Check’s Connor Hope, Gonzaga shot its worst field goal percentage since 2010 at 33% and its worst three-point percentage since 2012 at 10%. The Huskies have one of the best defenses in the country, but that cannot be the sole reason that the best offense in the country legs an egg for two halves.

5. You could see before the game tipped Mark Few going down his bench telling guys to be ready. It became evident in the UCLA and TCU games that Malachi Smith was dialed in and the most assertive guard the Zags had. He was not subbed in until the 13:30 mark of the first half. Smith had the highest offensive rating in the game yet the lowest usage rate on the team. Seeing how things came together for him over the last couple of weeks, it was difficult to see him serve a supplementary role in this one.

6. Adama Sanogo and Donovan Klingan are special defenders. You know this because the fifth-best two-point shooting team shot 45% (their season average was 58.1%) and Gonzaga’s guards relied heavily on jump stops and floaters to try and evade their length. Timme himself struggled with their size, going 5-14 from inside.

7. It feels like this is yet another tournament where the Zags go down in the hardest region to the eventual national champions. Four of KenPom’s Top 10 teams were in the West this year. Gonzaga was one of them and they played UConn (#1) and UCLA (#3) over the last two days.

8. The growth of Ben Gregg this season has been remarkable. It’s tough to find positives from last night’s game, but Gregg’s fight coming in and defending one of the best post players in the country and a future great big in Clingan was worthy of attention. He had the best defensive rating of anyone on the team (albeit at 109, still over 100 which is unideal) and was the most effective rebounder on the floor for Gonzaga.

9. Last night’s shocking disappointment is only because of the work this group of guys put in for the last two months. Few said in his career he’s never seen a team grow together as this one did over the season. Their year did not end on a high and in disappointing fashion for them, but it was those same guys that reached an Elite Eight game and took an 18th-ranked team in KenPom’s analytics all the way up to sixth before last night’s game.

10. This offseason is going to be chaotic and wide-open. Coming into this season, expectations were set by the optimistic hopes that two or more of the starters would come back. They lucked into three of them. Going by senior night and news clippings, that’s likely not the case this year. There are no reserved starting roster spots as of March 26th. How Few and company approach next season is going to show us what the next chapter of Gonzaga basketball is going to look like for years to come.