What The Win Over The Zags Really Means

What. A. Win. Taking down a number 1 team is oh so sweet. For 2018-2019, we can call ourselves a basketball school.

This was not your father’s Gonzaga team… Gonzaga is the real deal and is a premiere basketball program. They are no longer the team you only hear about come March Madness.  Well, maybe the team make up might be the same.

They still look a little like this:

  • They all look like they’re 26 years old and have been at Gonzaga for 8 years.
  • A batch of foreign recruits that you can barely say their name, but you know they can absolutely ball.
  • An athletic big that didn’t quite get the recognition and worked his tail off to become a stud.
  • A supreme passing point guard who seems to see everything.
  • Every guy on floor seems like he can guard multiple positions.
  • OH and Mark Few is probably one of the top 3 coaches in college basketball.

This win was MONSTROUS for us, even outside of the general aspect of beating a number one team. Why? Not only did we beat a top 10 team, but we finally got the monkey off our backs of not being able to close out a top 10 teams. 

Let’s look back on our track record of closing out top 15 teams the last 3 season.

2016-2017:

  • Loss to #12 Oregon in the Maui (65-69) in OT.
  • Loss to #7 North Carolina (71 – 73). A game we led until 2:14 left in the game.
  • Loss to #8 Gonzaga in Nashville (86 – 76).
  • Win over #2 Kentucky (82-80)
  • Loss to #13 Kentucky (83- 58).

2017- 2018:

  • Loss to #5 Villanova (85- 76). Another game we led at the half, and had a 15 point lead in.
  • Loss to #7 North Carolina, this time in Knoxville, (78-72). Once again, leading at halftime.

2018- 2019:

  • Loss to #2 Kansas in Brooklyn, (81-87) in OT. Also, led by 2 at half time.

Guys and Gals, that is a lot of close losses to top tier teams. We played the two teams that played in the national championship in the 2016 – 2017 game. We played, eventual national champion, Nova in 2017-2018. We’ve got invaluable experience against the best of the best the last 2 or 3 seasons and on Sunday all those tough loss “lessons” were turned for the good. If we are personally tired of learning from close losses, I guarantee you our guys were 10X.

Sunday’s game had it all. You had two elite veteran teams going at each other at a high level. I feel like a lot of these games turn out to be one sided. On Sunday it was shot for shot. You had your two stars in Grant Williams and Rui Hachimura, play like stars. You had multiple lead changes and highlight real plays.

BUTTT,  it was both teams’ number 2 men who shined the brightest. For Gonzaga, Brandon Clarke took over. His block on Pons ignited Gonzaga to a 10-2 run at the beginning of the 2nd half. You go to meet Pons at the rim, 99 out of 100 times, it winds up badly for you. Instead, Clarke might have one of the best blocks of the year. He was killing us inside for a majority of the 2nd half and led the team in scoring, finishing with 21 points and 9 rebounds.

As for The Admiral, what a time to come alive in the 2nd half. After a 5 for 13 start, Admiral had to step up with Grant in foul trouble. And step up he did. He hit every big shot we needed down the stretch. Big 3 after big 3, offensive rebound put backs, and a clutch banked 3. He finished the game with a career high 30 points and it was basically his story book game with his Dad in the stands.

This team is too good to have “good losses”. We are too good to be happy with playing close games against top programs. We are too good to give up close games. This team is ultra talented and can win a national championship. We do have to have slightly better guard play, if you want to make a run through March. I do believe we will find it in Bone, Bowden, and Pons. Soak it in everyone, this Vols team earned it.

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