Gonzaga’s run to the Elite 8 in 1999 felt like a great one-year wonder. A little school in Spokane, Wash., had only been to the NCAA Tournament once before 1999, earned the No. 10 seed and marched to the quarterfinals by knocking off Minnesota, Stanford and Florida. In the Elite 8, eventual national champions UCONN sent Gonzaga packing with a five-point victory.
After the coach who led the Bulldogs to prominence, Dan Monson, left to coach the Golden Gophers, it was not a guarantee assistant coach Mark Few could maintain things for Gonzaga. But as anyone betting on March Madness in 2022 will tell you, top sportsbooks have the top-ranked Zags as the favorite at +350 to win the tournament.
There is a myth that Gonzaga struggles come tournament time, but teams that make the tournament 21 years in a row can’t not have their share of success. Here’s a look at the Bulldogs’ best moments.
Return to the Elite 8
Gonzaga wasn’t able to replicate its 1999 run until 2015. The Bulldogs, who finished the season with a school record for wins and a 35-3 record, cruised through the West Coast Conference, recording three straight double-digit wins in the WCC Tournament to win the title. Once the Bulldogs made it into the NCAA Tournament, Gonzaga continued to roll with double-digit wins over North Dakota State, Iowa and UCLA.
The Bulldogs’ roster that seeded had three players — Domantas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer, and Kevin Pagngos — who would go on to play in the NBA. Gonzaga couldn’t break through the glass ceiling and into the Final Four, though. The Bulldogs struggled with eventual national champion Duke, being limited to 52 points in a 14-point loss.
First Final Four
Gonzaga once again set a school record for victories during the 2016-17 season, compiling a record of 37-2 overall and once again winning the WCC crown. The Bulldogs went on a not-so-easy run to the Final Four and appearance in the title game. After cruising against South Dakota State to open, Gonzaga won single digit games against Northwestern and West Virginia.
In the final four against South Carolina, the Bulldogs were able to squeak out a four-point win. The Bulldogs became the first WCC team to reach the national final since San Francisco won back-to-back championships in 1955 and 1956. Playing perennial power UNC in the final, Gonzaga didn’t wilt from the challenge and held a 35-32 lead at halftime.
However, in a game later derided for the number of fouls called, the Tar Heels outscored Gonzaga by nine points in the second half to steal a 71-65 win. The Zags had six players — Nigel Williams-Goss, Jonathan Williams, Zach Collins, Killian Tillie, and Rui Hachimura — on the roster who played in the NBA or were signed to NBA teams.
The Big Letdown
The 2020-21 Gonzaga team was notable on many fronts. Point guard Jalen Suggs was the first McDonald’s All-American to suit up for the Zags and created one of the more inedible NCAA moments in recent memory.
Gonzaga, which finished with a 31-1 record, most bludgeoned every team it saw that season, including its first four victories in the NCAA tournament. But when the Zags ran into a Cinderella UCLA team in the Final Four, everything changed. The two teams played an overtime classic where Suggs made a running, halfcourt three-pointer at the buzzer to send Gonzaga to the national championship game for the second time.
It set up a meeting with Baylor, a team Gonzaga was supposed to play in the regular season, but had been canceled due to COVID-19. But the meeting in the championship game was disappointing to college basketball fans at large, but especially to the Zags. Baylor smothered Gonzaga from the outset.
Baylor built a 9-0 lead and never trailed. Suggs scored a team-high 22 points, but veteran supporting players Drew Timme and Corey Kispert were taken out of their comfort zones and limited to 12 points apiece.
This year’s Gonzaga team is worth a look at betting on. The Bulldogs have another McDonald’s All-American, Chet Holmgren, along with Timme and a few other returning players. Gonzaga has mostly breezed through the regular season and looks poised to win the WCC Tournament again.