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Awful performance aside, NCAA path out west still set for Gonzaga

It’s important not to view this as some sort of recipe others might successfully follow. A game plan wasn’t devised to beat Gonzaga’s basketball team Tuesday night.

Nothing assumes those 40 minutes can be duplicated by another.

Or better yet, that the Zags will again be this inept offensively over the next several weeks.

St. Mary’s deserves credit for all of it, from start to finish, methodical possession after methodical possession, officially welcoming the country to some early March Madness by taking down its top-ranked team in an impressively slow and deliberate fashion.

The Gaels became a sworn enemy of all those teams on the NCAA Tournament bubble for the next several days, shocking the Zags 60-47 and everyone watching the West Coast Conference Tournament final, which included a packed 7,771 at Orleans Arena.

It means a bubble bid has been stolen from some unknown side — check back for the identity on Selection Sunday — and the Gaels are dancing for the second time in three years.

It also means what was a a 14½-point favorite now waits to see what, if any, damage such a defeat might do to its seed line.

“We just have to take the feeling we have right now and have it put a spark in us,” said Zags senior Josh Perkins. “It gives us another reason to push. We don’t want to feel this way again. It’s a bump in the road. It’s not a ditch. Our end goal is still intact. We still have something to prove. Just stay together.”

You can be certain that as Power 5 conferences begin their tournaments this week and the television pundits are afforded 10 or so minutes between games, Gonzaga’s solid position as a No. 1 seed before Tuesday will be debated to death.

It really won’t matter for the Zags, being a 1 or a 2.

Basketball out West is so terrible this season, they should still be protected in this part of the land and be offered a path that would begin in Salt Lake City, advance to Anaheim and then on to Minneapolis and the Final Four.

That is, unless they have another night such as Tuesday.

Then, they could head home for good following the first weekend.

Do you know how you lose to a team that you beat earlier in conference by 48 and 14?

You shoot 38 percent for the game and make just 2-of-17 3s.

You let the other guys dictate pace and get beat one-on-one in the post.

Your guards get totally outplayed by those of the winning side.

Your gap defense isn’t very good and your decision-making in transition even worse.

“We didn’t get much of anything done, quite frankly,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few.

Good for St Mary’s. That’s a mountain the size of Everest to climb, more mentally than anything, believing you can take down a team that whipped you twice by a combined 62 points and then actually doing so.

Randy Bennett more than earned his coaching paycheck Tuesday.

The Zags will move on from it quickly.

They had never even trailed a conference game at halftime this season, never mind lost to a WCC team.

They had won 21 straight coming in and scored at least 1.00 points per possession in 31 regular-season games. They beat Duke when it was at full strength.

They’ll survive an awful shooting night.

Western winner?

Bigger question: Can they break what is now a 22-year streak of a team from the West failing to win the national championship?

Think about it: The last time it happened, Jack was holding Rose near the railing of that ill-fated cruise ship and she was uttering a famous line about flying.

Hold on to your popcorn, is right.

It has also been 22 years since “Titanic” debuted at your local cinema.

There are long cycles of stuff, and then there is a Samsung Top-Load that is possessed and never, ever stops spinning.

But it appears Gonzaga might own the best chance for the foreseeable future — um, you have seen the Pac-12 and Mountain West recently, right? — to bring a title back west for the first time since Arizona shocked its way through a bracket by beating three No. 1 seeds behind guys named Miles Simon and Mike Bibby and Jason Terry and Michael Dickerson.

Yeah, that long ago.

The Zags of Tuesday night can’t win it all.

The Zags of the previous 32 games can.

A game plan wasn’t devised. They just got beat.

It’s March. It happens.

They’re more than fine.

Contact columnist Ed Graney at egraney@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard on “The Press Box,” ESPN Radio 100.9 FM and 1100 AM, from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Monday through Friday. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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