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Thanks to Jalen Suggs, No. 1 Gonzaga is headed into the NCAA tournament with a perfect 26-0 record.
Gonzaga, after struggling in the first half of the WCC championship game on Tuesday night in Las Vegas, rallied back late in the second half to beat BYU 88-78 behind a pair of clutch back-to-back 3-point buckets from Suggs.
The win not only ensures their place as the top seed in the NCAA tournament, and gives them their eighth WCC title in nine years, but it makes the Bulldogs just the fifth team in more than 40 years to enter the tournament with a perfect record.
“Finally, we acknowledged this is a big deal,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It puts us in some incredible company, quite frankly. … It’s a heck of an accomplishment.”
Suggs secured win late
For the longest time at Orleans Arena, it felt like BYU was in the perfect position to pull off the upset win.
The Cougars shot lights out in the first half on Tuesday night, and picked up a 12-point halftime lead after scoring on 22 of their first 32 possessions of the game and shooting almost 68 percent from the field. Gonzaga simply looked a step behind.
Yet a huge 11-2 run to open up the second half put Gonzaga right back in the game, and then Suggs gave them the edge in the final minutes with his two timely buckets.
Suggs finished the night with a game-high 23 points while shooting 7-of-15 from the field. Joel Ayayi added 18 points and nine rebounds and Corey Kispert put up 17 points for Gonzaga.
“They had us on roller skaters, and were just out-competing us and beating us to balls, but also executing their offense and making shots,” Few said, via KSL’s Sean Walker. “I think they showed themselves to be a heck of a team, a top-25 level team.”
Zags enter NCAA tournament on 30-game win streak
The Cougars were actually the last team to beat Gonzaga last February. Since then, the Bulldogs have won a school-record 30 straight games — something made possible by the COVID-19 pandemic, which ended last season early.
Gonzaga will now attempt to do something no team has done since 1976: Win the NCAA tournament with a perfect record.
Indiana, led by coach Bobby Knight, last pulled off the feat during the 1975-76 season with a perfect 32-0 record. UCLA has done so four times, most recently in 1973. San Francisco and North Carolina did that in back-to-back years in 1956 and 1967.
Four other teams have come close and finished the season with a perfect record before later falling in the tournament since Indiana’s run, the most recent being Wichita State and Kentucky in 2014 and 2015, respectively. None of them, however, got it done.
If Gonzaga can cut down the nets in Indianapolis in April, they would join a very exclusive club of programs. Considering the run they’ve mounted this season, and the comeback Suggs led on Tuesday night, they’re in a pretty good position to try and get that done.
"Every single game now is going to be tougher than the last, and we've got to be ready for that," Kispert said on ESPN.
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