LAS VEGAS — A hint that this season might be different for Gonzaga’s basketball team came early, when it was thumped by Tennessee in a scrimmage. There have been other periodic reminders: getting walloped by Texas and pounded by Purdue, and losing at home to Loyola Marymount, which ended the Zags’ 75-game home winning streak.
There was also Tuesday night. Gonzaga ran out to face St. Mary’s in the West Coast The lower seed was represented by the conference championship dressed in road blues.
They are now close to another N.C.A.A. men’s basketball tournament, the stage on which Gonzaga long ago made its national name, the Zags delivered a timely reminder — to the tournament selection committee and others — that they should never be discounted in March.
The message was sent with a 77-51 pasting of St. Mary’s at Orleans Arena, a victory that sends Gonzaga A 28-5 record was enough to qualify for tournament selection. It would be notable for most teams, but this is still the lowest loss record for an organization. Gonzaga N.C.A.A.A. team entry tournament in 2016 For the first time in 2018 the Zags won’t be entering the tournament as No. 1 seed.
“I love it,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few, whose team hadn’t worn its away uniforms in the postseason since the 2017 national championship game it lost to North Carolina.
The ever-fearful coach Few seemed happy to have been spared all the expectations and to see his team blossom as the regular season winds down. The Zags didn’t just beat St. Mary’s in Tuesday’s title game: They jumped to an early lead and — unlike in the teams’ two regular-season meetings, which they split — buried the Gaels (27-6).
The shoulders of the St. Mary’s players slumped with each shot that wouldn’t fall, and their expressions sagged each time Gonzaga They sliced through their defense to score another basket. Halftime was 37-19 for the Zags. The second half saw them increase their lead to 37-19.
“We were awful,” St. Mary’s Coach Randy Bennett said.
Gonzaga All this despite Drew Timme’s 20 minute limit for foul trouble.
He was not bothered by it. Timme was able to score 18 points by making 8 out of 10 shots. He also scored the crucial basket which made Timme a hero. Gonzaga’s career scoring leader — a mark that had belonged not to Adam Morrison, John Stockton or Dan Dickau but to Frank Burgess, who led the nation in scoring in 1961.
Timme, who is a senior forward and has already closed the door on a fifth year, will be remembered more for the Zag record of 118-12.
His modest career prospects and his role as a wingman have meant that he is still in college. And sometimes his look — mustache, headband and on-court histrionics — obscures his more subtle contributions.
“I knew it was somebody we wanted in our program,” Timme is a name few people have heard of. “I knew he’d be a good player here and I knew he was a perfect fit just watching how he played. That same confident persona that he showed in those small gyms on the A.A.U. circuit is what he brought to this program.”
“It gives us all that edge,” He concluded.
This is the edge Gonzaga All season, has searched for it. It wasn’t the losses or the handful of narrow conference victories that were so bothersome to Few. Few was bothered by how difficult the Zags played and their dedication to details.
“There were numerous days when I was not fun to be around, as a player or as an assistant coach,” Many laughed. “I probably owe everybody an apology for that. But I was just trying to hold those guys to the standard that all the other teams have hit.”
Timme claimed he experienced a similar sense of malaise.
“I’ve won so much in my career, it’s a shock to me not to win,” He added: “How the season has gone made us appreciate the little things — the journey — more. Sometimes it’s hard not to fall into this mind-set of: We’ve just got to get to March. You can’t just wake up and go, ‘Oh, we’re a tough team.’ It’s something you have to get through the dirt and the mud.”
Gonzaga’s offense has also been a work in progress, even though it has hummed along, once again, as the nation’s most efficient team: This is the fourth time in five seasons the Zags have been atop the KenPom rankings in that category. The Zags finished third in the last season.
Rather than running at a breakneck pace, the Zags are — for them — almost deliberate.
“Every year they play with this terrifying, torrid pace,” Brigham Young Coach Mark Pope said. “It’s just not their character so far this year. They just have younger guards who aren’t quite what they had. And Timme has always lent a little bit of gravity to the game. He’s like a secondary transition guy. He’s not a deer out there.”
The Zags aren’t content to run past their opponents. Instead, they have created defenses at the halfcourt with their many cuts and screens. Timme is the pivot from the low or high post. In Monday’s West Coast In the semifinals San Francisco decided to let Anton Watson, a senior forward and a great defender, go unguarded. Watson profited, scoring a record-breaking 20 points.
After taking over three minutes to score their first goal on Tuesday night the Zags came out looking as stunning as ever. This was their eighth consecutive win. Timme stated that they would accept the challenge regardless of where they were seeded Sunday and will continue to search for more.
“It was nice,” He said: “to be an underdog for once.”