Gonzaga's loss to BYU will likely cost it a No. 1 seed
Gonzaga found one way to settle the debate over whether it deserves a No. 1 seed despite playing in a weaker league than the other contenders.
The Zags suffered a 73-70 home loss to BYU on Saturday night that likely removes them from consideration barring a flurry of setbacks from other top teams.
Though Gonzaga boasts a 29-2 record and quality non-league victories over SMU, St. John's, Georgia and UCLA, the Zags' eight top 100 RPI wins are the fewest among the nation's elite teams. That's not Gonzaga's fault since it did its best to assemble a formidable non-conference schedule, but it's a byproduct of playing in the RPI's ninth strongest league.
Whereas it was easier to overlook the flaws in Gonzaga's resumé when its lone loss was in overtime at Pac-12-leading Arizona in December, a loss at home to a BYU team that was on the fringes of the bubble picture prior to Saturday changes that. The Zags can still get a No. 2 seed if they win the WCC tournament in Las Vegas, perhaps in the West if Arizona either ascends to the No. 1 line or suffers another loss or two and drops below Gonzaga in the pecking order.
Regardless, the key to Gonzaga shedding its reputation as postseason underachievers this March isn't its seeding or even staying out West. The Zags have to get back to the level they were playing at before a February slump characterized by close calls and uninspired play.
They trailed into the second half against Pepperdine on Feb. 14 on a night when their offense high-powered offense didn't click. They struggled to put lowly Pacific away five nights later despite 45 points from Kyle Wiltjer. Then they had to end the game on a 29-9 run at Saint Mary's last Saturday to eke out a 10-point road win.
Gonzaga tried to follow that same script against BYU, but the Cougars were a little too good and a little too desperate to let it happen. They knew they needed this victory to have a realistic chance of securing an NCAA bid without winning the WCC tournament.
The all-around brilliance of Kyle Collinsworth and the outside shooting of Chase Fischer and Skyler Halford propelled BYU to an 11-point lead with eight minutes remaining before Byron Wesley and Domantas Sabonis led the Zags back. Wesley had 17 points and Sabonis had 12, but Wiltjer finished with only four points on 2-for-11 shooting and none of the other Gonzaga standouts scored in double figures.
The best chance for Gonzaga came when BYU fouled Eric McClellan intentionally with six seconds remaining after Tyler Haws missed a pair of free throws that kept the lead at three. McCllellan made both free throws despite trying to miss the second on purpose, a blunder that cost Gonzaga the chance to get a tip-in and force overtime.
While Gonzaga's recent play is alarming, there's a chance this loss will help refocus the Zags just in time for the postseason. There's also a chance Gonzaga knows its season will be judged by how it fares in March and it simply has struggled to motivate itself during the last few week of the regular season.
Regardless, while a chance for the program's second No. 1 seed in three years may be gone, all of the Zags' other goals are still out there for them to seize. They just have to get back to the high-intensity level of play they demonstrated the first few months of the season.
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Jeff Eisenberg is the editor of The Dagger on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter!