Gonzaga doesn’t have much experience when it comes to bouncing back from a tough loss. The Zags would prefer to keep it that way.
They’ve only had a few occasions this season. They opened the year 9-0 and climbed to No. 1 before Admiral Schofield’s 25-point second half carried Tennessee past GU 76-73 in December.
Some of the same issues – defense and rebounding – resurfaced as the Zags, coming off finals week, dropped their ensuing game to North Carolina. It marked the first time Gonzaga lost back-to-back games since February 2014.
Gonzaga ripped off 21 straight wins and returned to No. 1 until a 60-47 pratfall against Saint Mary’s in Tuesday’s WCC Tournament championship game.
The Zags (30-3) have plenty of time to work on their response. They’ll go nine or 10 days between games before lining up in the NCAA Tournament.
Players seemed to have a blend of irritation, frustration and perspective in their postgame comments.
“Plenty of teams have lost in their conference tournament and gone on to do big things in the NCAA Tournament,” sophomore wing Corey Kispert said. “We’ve faced a very small amount of adversity over the season, like true adversity. This is just a great chance for us to get better and fix things that need to be corrected and the things that make us beatable.”
After the final buzzer Tuesday, sophomore guard Zach Norvell Jr. walked alone toward the baseline before a staff member pointed him back toward the Zags’ bench and the handshake line.
“Just taking everything in, just trying to stay positive,” Norvell said. “We didn’t play our best basketball, that’s what I’m most upset about. I’m pretty sure we have a lot of guys in here that are competitors. It’s just next game, build from this one, and get ready for the tournament.”
The 2017 Zags have numerous parallels to the current team. That squad was No. 1 and bidding for an undefeated regular season when BYU rallied for a stunning 79-71 victory on Senior Night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Gonzaga gradually returned to top form, thumping Saint Mary’s by 18 for the WCC Tournament title and dusting Xavier by 24 to reach the Final Four. The Zags lost to North Carolina in the championship game.
The current Zags have a talented, healthy roster and appear to have the mentality to follow a similar path, but only time will tell. Their body of work, record-shattering offense and improving defense should promote plenty of confidence.
“We’ll be just fine,” junior forward Brandon Clarke said. “We’ve done just fine the whole season. Obviously, we have a really talented team. We just didn’t play well (against Saint Mary’s).”
Kispert said the loss is a “chance for us to take a good hard look at ourselves in the mirror and correct the things that need to be corrected.”
Motivation shouldn’t be hard to find.
“Just that feeling we have right now, put a spark in us, give us another reason to push,” senior point guard Josh Perkins said. “We don’t ever want to feel like this again. Our end goal is still intact and we still have stuff to prove.”
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