As a ‘Matt’er of Fact: Burying the Zags too quickly.
It was the Tuesday morning of January 6, 2009 and I was ready to write the obituary and give the introductory speech at the funeral of the 2008-09 Gonzaga basketball season.
We’d been told the Zags were tougher, they could defend, they were more ready to handle the traditionally brutal gauntlet non-conference and then this happened: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dSvbk8sjcuI
First thought while watching that game live was, of course, that I was at Key Arena; haven’t the good basketball fans of Seattle been through enough? First they lose their professional team and now the most successful college team in its state loses because of THAT SHOT!
After that game everybody said the right things and started going through the stages of grief.
DENIAL – “You showed you can compete with one of the top teams in the country. We had a great mentality,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “We were confident.”
ANGER – “Oh my God,” Austin Daye muttered on the Gonzaga bench according to game recap by Bud Withers of the Seattle Times.
BARGAINING – “We win if we get that rebound,” said Few. “Price hit an incredible shot.”
ACCEPTANCE – “I think you take a lot out of it,” Few said.
When UConn walked out of a stunned arena one would have to think they might have taken more with them than a mere victory. The thought was well, this season for the Zags can go one of two ways with the odds on bad. Then the following occurred:
12-23-2008 – 77-70 home loss to Portland State (RPI 101).
12-31-2008 – 66-65 road loss to Utah
So, on that early morning I got up and was prepared to announce the power shift in the West Coast Conference had shifted to Patty Mills and the Gaels of Saint Mary’s.
Then, before Gonzaga (9-4) got its last rights when they got back home in Spokane something interesting thing happened – the calendar turned to 2009. The Zags realized their first game of 2009 represented the last chance to not only get a highlighted win to impress the committee but also to stop this skid before it embarks on its WCC slate.
However, this mission–if they chose to accept it–was to beat a Top 25 team TWICE in 38 days and end their 37-game home winning streak (the second longest such streak among Division I programs behind Notre Dame’s 43-game streak). Fair? No. Inevitable? Yup. So I thought just wait until after this fourth straight loss to publish it. I had it written – all I needed was the result added in. For the record, it’s still in my computer and that’s where it will stay.
RESULT: 1-7-2009 – Gonzaga 89 @ Tennessee 79 (OT). MISSION ACCOMPLISHED.
To quote Teddy KGB in “Rounders”: “Hanging around, hanging around. Kid’s got alligator blood. Can’t get rid of him.”
This win will come into play in the future, when on Selection Sunday you see a small single-digit number next to the Bulldogs name when they’re seeded as the WAIT A MINUTE, GONZAGA HAS A PULSE moment.
Matt Bouldin tied a career high with 26 points to help the Zags’ don’t-call-it-an-upset of Tennessee.
Daye had 20 points, and Josh Heytvelt added 15 points and grabbed 12 rebounds.
“We just got our swagger back,” Daye said after the victory. Couldn’t have said it better, young man.
The moral of the story is, of course, before you call time of death always check for a pulse. Gonzaga has one and keep in mind everything we were told before the season started; it’s true.