With the school’s record winning streak now in the rearview mirror, Gonzaga hopes the lessons learned from the rare defeat leave it better prepared for the postseason.
The seventh-ranked Bulldogs open play in Las Vegas looking to begin a march to their third straight West Coast Conference tournament title Saturday night in a quarterfinal matchup with San Francisco.
“We have to look at the big picture,” senior guard Byron Wesley said. “We had an amazing run here and I don’t think there’s anything for anybody on this team to hang their head (about) because we still have a lot of basketball left.”
Following a 66-63 overtime loss at then-No. 3 Arizona on Dec. 6, Gonzaga (29-2) went on that school-record 22-game winning streak that eventually led to a 14th WCC regular-season title in 15 seasons.
The Bulldogs, however, couldn’t complete a perfect march through the conference schedule and may have lost their opportunity to earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament in last Saturday’s 73-70 home loss to BYU.
“I don’t know if it’s this time of the season or just because we haven’t lost many – I have no idea, but we’ve got to fix it,” senior guard Kevin Pangos said. “The good thing is that we’ve got time and we’ve got an opportunity. Our season is not done, so we’ve got to fix it and we’ve got a little more basketball to play.”
Byron Wesley finished with 17 points for Gonzaga, which also had its nation-best 41-game home winning streak end. The Bulldogs, who came in shooting a Division I-best 52.7 percent, were limited to 43.9 percent shooting.
Leading scorer Kyle Wiltjer (16.5 ppg) had a season-low four points while missing nine of 11 shots. He’s scored a combined nine in his last two games since averaging 24.8 points on 55.6 percent shooting over his previous five.
Pangos, the team’s second-leading scorer at 11.6 per game, has totaled 11 while making 4 of 19 shots in his past two.
“We need to get back to being the aggressor,” coach Mark Few said. “This time of year the most aggressive team wins.”
Gonzaga will try to take that approach as it goes after a 13th conference tournament title in 17 years. Few’s club will first have to get past No. 8 seed San Francisco (14-17), which advanced with a 62-58 win over Pacific on Friday.
Tim Derksen and Kruize Pinkins had 14 points apiece, while Devin Watson added 13 in the Dons’ fifth win in six games.
Pinkins scored 20 in an 88-57 loss at Gonzaga on Jan. 8 before Mark Tollefsen had 18 in an 81-70 home defeat Feb. 7.
The Dons, who have dropped six straight by an average of 17.3 in the series, will try to extend Gonzaga’s brief offensive woes after limiting opponents to 32.2 percent shooting over their last four victories.
The Bulldogs, however, have had a big advantage on the glass, outrebounding San Francisco 76-48. Wiltjer has totaled 44 points and 16 rebounds in the two meetings, while Pangos has scored a combined 34 with eight 3-pointers.
The Dons have lost seven straight versus ranked foes by an average of 19.2 points, five of which came against Gonzaga.