The West Coast Conference has been dominated in past seasons by Gonzaga.
This season though, things seem pretty uncertain.
The No. 25 Bulldogs fell to BYU at the Kennel on Thursday for the second straight season, this time by a score of 69-68. Nick Emery hit a deep 3 with 1:37 left to give the Cougars a lead they would never relinquish despite four Gonzaga shots to tie the game and a set of free throws that leading scorer Kyle Wiltjer — who dropped 35 points on the night — was only able to split.
Gonzaga dropping back-to-back home games to a West Coast Conference opponent is really quite rare. In fact, it’s the first time since 1995 and ’96, when Santa Clara (and Steve Nash) went into McCarthy Athletic Center and defeated the Bulldogs on their way to two straight NCAA Tournament berths.
And ultimately, Mark Few and company are going to be pretty disappointed that random streak isn’t still intact not only by the chances to win it at the end, but also by how this one got away from them in the second half.
The Bulldogs led by 13 with 12 minutes left after going on 8-0 run early in the second half and another quick little run right at the 12-minute mark to extend the lead. But that’s when Kyle Collinsworth took over. The NCAA’s all-time leading triple-double machine scored six quick points and dished out an assist in a two-minute span to make it a five-point game. Then, later in the half, he scored seven points and dished out another assist in a three-minute span to bring it to a 63-all tie. For the game, he scored 20 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out three assists.
This was a rather important game for the Cougars, who pushed themselves back toward the bubble conversation with a victory. However, it was an equally important loss for Gonzaga, which has now dropped three home games in a season for the first time since 2010-11. The home loss opens up what now is shaping up to be a wide open West Coast Conference race, with Gonzaga, BYU and Saint Mary’s all only possessing one loss in conference. And honestly, the Zags are at a bit of a disadvantage comparatively to their counterparts, having only played two road games compared to three for each of the others.
Gonzaga’s truly going to need to figure out how to get better, more consistent production out of its much-maligned backcourt. Otherwise, the stranglehold that the Bulldogs have had on the league — winning at least a share of the title every season but one since 2001 — could end. And if that ends, the Zags will be in a bit of a precarious position for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998, the last time they missed the event.