BRENT STECKER

For a Gonzaga fan, it’s hard to be disappointed after Zags’ loss in NCAA title game

Apr 4, 2017, 12:21 PM | Updated: 1:50 pm

Gonzaga's season didn't end in March for the first time in their run of 19 straight NCAA Tournament...

Gonzaga's season didn't end in March for the first time in their run of 19 straight NCAA Tournaments. (AP)

(AP)

You’d think March would be a Gonzaga fan’s favorite month, and in some ways you’re right.

It’s the month we look forward to each year because we know it will be another chance for the ultimate underdog, the perennial Cinderella, a team from a small Jesuit school in Spokane, to try and prove to the college basketball world that it belongs in the same class as the Kansases, the Kentuckys, the Dukes – and yes, the North Carolinas.

But for 18 straight years, every March was bittersweet for Gonzaga fans, because that’s the month the Bulldogs’ season always ended. Sometimes in the Elite Eight, sometimes in the first round, but never in the Final Four and certainly not in the championship game. It never gets easy, either, seeing your team that is always there, yet always feels like an outsider, continuing to fall short of the Final Four.

And that’s why the last three days made for the greatest time there has ever been to be a Gonzaga fan.

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We watched the Dan Monson-coached, 10th-seeded team led by Matt Santangelo and Casey Calvary in that first NCAA Tournament run in 1999 lose in the Elite Eight to eventual champion UConn. We had our hearts ripped out in first round losses in 2002, 2007 and 2008. We heard all the experts who picked the Zags to be the first team to ever be upset up by a No. 16 both times they earned a No. 1 seed – and we had to live with the 2013 team that kind of proved them right when it couldn’t get past the second round despite being a top seed.

And we’ll never live down the Adam Morrison team that collapsed against UCLA in the Sweet 16 in 2006. The shot of Morrison sitting on the court, crying his eyes out, is about as painful of a memory any sports fan could have. At least we didn’t have to see it in a commercial late in the Zags’ first NCAA championship game appearance or anything – OK, that was sarcasm, because of course we did.

The thing is, though, Gonzaga fans wouldn’t give up those memories for anything – or at least I wouldn’t. They’re the kind of things you acquire when the team you root for makes 19 NCAA Tournaments in a row, which is a pretty incredible accomplishment and a nice bit of comfort to know coming into each new season with Mark Few at the helm. And they’re the kind of things that made this year’s trip to the Final Four and NCAA championship game so sweet.

It’s why when we watched Nigel Williams-Goss, we saw the leadership of players like Dan Dickau, Blake Stepp and Kevin Pangos in him. Why Przemek Karnowski, in all his goofy, bearded glory, reminded us a bit of Ronny Turiaf. Why we wonder if Zach Collins is about to become the next Kelly Olynyk in the NBA. Why when Josh Perkins took over the first half of the title game against UNC on Monday, it looked kinda like Santangelo knocking down 3s in that magical run in 1999.

And why, when the Gonzaga players lost their legs at the end of the program’s first six-game NCAA Tournament, at the end of a season in which the Zags lost just two games, it was hard to be disappointed.

Gonzaga may have lost the NCAA title to Roy Williams and the mighty North Carolina Tar Heels with the whole country watching, and no, it wasn’t the prettiest game, but the Zags were in it until the end. They proved they belonged.

A funny thing happened in the run to the title game, too: March ended, and Gonzaga was still alive.

Maybe one day in the not-too-distant future, the Zags will get through the first week of April that way, too. Here’s to hoping.

Brent Stecker is a Gonzaga basketball fan who jumped on the bandwagon in 1999 and never jumped off.

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