In a game that broke my heart more than any girl ever has, the Zags fell to UNC last Monday in the championship game of the NCAA tournament. After three days of weeping and changing the borders of all the maps on campus so that North Carolina and South Carolina were combined into just “Carolina,” I had a bit of time to reflect on what exactly had happened.
Unfortunately, this reflection led to me actually learning things, which I had always thought was for nerds. Since I am a self-entitled blogger who thinks that he knows all the answers, allow me to share what I’ve learned since Monday with you.
1. The Campus Can Get Uncomfortably Quiet
Immediately after the buzzer sounded and students filed out of the viewing party at the McCarthy Athletic Center, the campus felt… off. There was an eerie silence that covered the campus that almost felt tangible. It was like the campus was an exchange with my father after I accidentally crashed his car into the local pet store: the silence was significantly worse than if there had been yelling (or barking).
Occasionally you would hear a “[naughty word] UNC!” from a distraught fan, but mostly you just heard nothing. It was a very different environment from the campus just hours before, with music blaring and students cheering. Haunting. Quite haunting.
2. Zags Can Go From Devastated To Weirdly Optimistic Very Fast
Flash-forward a few days after the game and the campus no longer feels like a cemetery. Students are smiling again, the sun is (briefly) out, and Twitter and Facebook are oversaturated with articles about how Gonzaga’s 2018 team is already looking like they have a shot at the title, how Mark Few is the best coach in college basketball, and how grateful students are to have witnessed Zag history.
In a sense, the way that the campus responded to the loss is comparable to the team’s response after BYU ruined their perfect season. We allowed ourselves to be upset for only a few days, and then it’s business as usual. There’s that Gonzaga Mentality we’ve heard so much about.
3. Spokane Loves The Zags
Throughout the entire tournament run, it was inspiring to see the support of the Spokane community. Signs outside of small businesses expressed their support, the Riverfront Park clock tower lit up in red and blue, and swarms of members of the Spokane community showed up at any and every event with the word “Gonzaga” in it. The watch parties in the Hemmingson Student Center and the McCarthey Athletic Center were filled with Spokane adults looking to show their support for the Zags. I’m just happy I got to cheer on my team with a delightful 80-year-old man with a temporary Gonzaga tattoo on his face.
4. Our Players Have Class
Despite the way that some of you may have read this, this is not a jab at UNC’s players. Really, it’s not. I can’t stress that enough. Rather, it is a comment on the grace and poise with which Coach Few and the Zags have carried themselves after the loss. Watch any interview they did after the game, and you’ll see a group that, while rightfully upset about the loss, are still respectful of UNC, grateful for the opportunity to have gotten as far as they did, and extremely appreciative of the community that supported them all the way to the championship.
If I had lost such a close game, I would not have had nearly as much restraint as our guys. I would have gone off in a Richard Sherman-esque rant about how the refs missed critical calls, how the NCAA rigged the tournament somehow even though I have no evidence, and how I couldn’t believe that we lost to a team whose primary color is baby blue.
All tournament, the Zags wore shirts that said “Gonzaga Mentality,” and you can tell how deeply engrained that mentality is after the loss.
5. Zags Are Definitely Not Fair Weather Fans
Surprisingly, Gonzaga basketball has been a popular topic of conversation on campus recently. Every professor I’ve had so far has brought up the game, and practically every conversation I had on Tuesday started with “So, how about that game?”
Yet in every one of these interactions, I never once heard someone denounce Gonzaga basketball or say that we’re screwed for next season. There’s an optimism about our program’s future that is the result of 19 consecutive NCAA tournament appearances. Zags don’t only expect they’ll make the tournament next year: they know it. Our fans aren’t going anywhere any time soon. And speaking of not going anywhere any time soon…
6. A Successful Gonzaga Basketball Program Isn’t Going Anywhere Any Time Soon
Somehow, a Jesuit school of 5,000 students in the middle of Spokane, WA has built up a name for itself to the point that our basketball program is talked about along with powerhouse mega-schools like Kansas, Kentucky, and UCLA, despite not getting nearly as many high-profile recruits. We’re a university with a third of the amount of undergraduate students as UNC, yet our basketball teams played one another in a battle to be crowned as the best team in college basketball.
Like it or not, Gonzaga has become a staple of college basketball. We have established a program under Mark Few that takes transfers, foreign citizens, and less-than-five-star recruits and transforms it into a serious contender in the tournament every year. We’re used to being overlooked, called overrated, and dismissed because of our conference size. Gonzaga is a program that was never supposed to be successful, but here we are.
We’ll see you in the tournament next year.