‘Time will give them a better perspective’: Mark Few praised Gonzaga for ‘spectacular’ season after NCAA loss | Gonzaga University

Gonzaga’s last three NCAA Tournaments have ended at different times, in varying degrees before a national championship, against defensive-minded opponents who have each found effective ways to control the Bulldogs’ high-powered offense. .

All three results – an Elite Eight loss to Texas Tech in 2019, a National Championship loss to Baylor in 2021 and a Sweet 16 loss to Arkansas in 2022 – sent Gonzaga players back to the locker room swollen with tears. realizing they wouldn’t. part of the group that won the program’s first national title.

Those emotions have inevitably followed the 2021-22 Zags into the offseason.

“The moment is raw, very raw,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said last Thursday after a 74-68 loss to Arkansas at Chase Center in San Francisco. “So time gives you a much better perspective.”

Few should know. He’s guided Gonzaga to 23 consecutive tournament appearances — the third-longest streak in the nation behind Kansas (32) and Michigan State (24) — but the Bulldogs are still targeting the program’s first national championship, which means that every season since 1999-2000 has ended the same way. That is, with a loss at some point in the NCAA tournament.

The 2021 Zags were awfully close to capping an undefeated season with the national title before losing 86-70 to Baylor in the national title game, prompting a similar response from Few in the post-game interview.

“It’s obviously a feeling these guys have never had to deal with and deal with,” he said. “I think the nature of tonight is not easy but you as a coach try to give them as much perspective as possible and as with everything time will give them the best prospect.”

In 2019, another No. 1-seeded Gonzaga team fell short, losing 75-69 to Texas Tech in Anaheim, Calif. Post-match footage from the loss showed playmaker Josh Perkins returning to the locker room with his head down, while forward Brandon Clarke followed with a towel over his head.

Putting the loss into perspective, Few told reporters: “(It) hurts a lot right now, but once the time is over I think they’ll sit down and realize how awesome it was. .”

Few called Gonzaga’s 2021-22 campaign “spectacular” on more than one occasion in his interview last Thursday. The Bulldogs entered the year ranked No. 1 in the AP Top 25, never slipped outside the top five in the weekly poll, and finished the year atop the national rankings. The nine weeks Gonzaga spent at No. 1 — across three stints — were the longest of any team this season.

“It was so easy to train. So you praise them and thank them for that,” Few said. “As I told them, time will give them a better perspective. We started this season No. 1 and finished the regular season No. 1. There was nobody in college basketball who could hang on to it. We were the only ones in power, and they deserve a lot of credit for that. We took everyone’s best shot, and we just couldn’t do it against Arkansas’ shot tonight.

After earning a third straight No. 1 seed at the NCAA Tournament — a feat no other program can share — the Bulldogs qualified for a seventh straight Sweet 16, extending their national record. They were one of three No. 1 seeds who failed to get past the Sweet 16 of this year’s tournament, joining Arizona and Baylor.

“I think sometimes outside people who aren’t on our program always tag it with the, hey, national championship or bust,” Few said. “I think we are more – obviously we wanted to go all the way and win, but we understand how hard it is and how hard it is to make the tournament, how hard it is to win a league as good as the WCC this year, and even move to the Sweet 16.”

The Bulldogs faced the weight of preseason expectations – at first they were chosen as the betting favorite to win the national championship – as they worked to rebuild a roster that lost three players from the roster. starting, including two senior fourth-year leaders in Corey Kispert and Joel Ayayi who were familiar with Few’s system.

A cast of newcomers that included Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton and highly touted freshmen Chet Holmgren, Hunter Sallis and Nolan Hickman didn’t have much time to catch up before Gonzaga only faces nationally ranked opponents such as Texas, UCLA, Duke, Alabama and TexasTech. The Zags went 3-2 in those games and went 17 in a row before losing at Saint Mary’s.

“(They were) incredibly easy with a coach because, like Drew (Timme) just said, they showed up to work every day, picked things up really quickly,” Few said. “It was never an envious or jealous moment with all the attention and notoriety and NIL entering the picture and all that.”

With more than two decades of training, Gonzaga’s coach has put the season into perspective faster than most of his players, who were counting on a cross-country trip to New Orleans this week to play another Final Four.

“It’s been an incredible year, and these guys have delivered night after night from the start,” he said. “Obviously we wanted to bring this stuff to New Orleans and bring home a championship, but only one team will be able to do that, and they’ll be really, really good, and they’ll probably have good fortune. them to make that happen.

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