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Mike Lopresti | | January 20, 2023

Gonzaga's home loss to LMU was a college basketball upset years in the making

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The ground shook in the Northwest Thursday night. The landscape rattled.

Earthquake? Nah. No. 6 Gonzaga lost at home to Loyola Marymount 68-67. Though on the college basketball Richter scale, that came in about a 9.2.

The last time the Zags were beaten in their McCarthey Center, nobody ever heard of COVID. That was 2018. The last time they lost to Loyola in Spokane, Mark Few was a first-year assistant and Gonzaga had never played in the NCAA tournament. Mike Krzyzewski was two months away from winning his first national championship at Duke. That was 1991. The last time Loyola upset a top-10 team, John Kennedy had been President of the United States for two months. That was 1961, and against USC in a regional consolation game, back when the NCAA had such things.

There is more to be stunned about. Much more. Maybe more than anything, for future reference, is compelling evidence of just how vulnerable Gonzaga has become in the West Coast Conference that it has ruled with an iron fist for so long.

How shocking was Thursday night? Let us count the ways.

Gonzaga had won 75 games in a row in McCarthey Center, going back to a loss to Saint Mary’s in 2018. Of those 75, 68 had been by double-digits and 48 by at least 20 points.

👀 Longest active home winning streaks now that Gonzaga has fallen

To put that 75 context, the next longest home streak in the nation — and now No. 1 — is Auburn at 28 games. No one else has reached 20. Gonzaga’s run at home was the longest college basketball had seen in 39 years. “The home streak’s over. It was going to end sometime and it ended in a tough, hard-fought battle,” Few said afterward. “I don’t think anybody is going to touch that thing for quite some time if you look across the landscape of college basketball.”

Gonzaga had won 93 games in a row against unranked opponents, and 83 as a ranked team, the second longest streak in the history of the Associated Press poll, which goes back more than seven decades.

Gonzaga had won 116 in a row against every WCC team not named BYU or Saint Mary’s. It had been 3,253 days since the Zags lost to anyone else in the league.

Gonzaga had won 25 consecutive meetings against Loyola Marymount, by an average of 21 points. Only one of the 25 had been decided by single digits. The last time the Lions beat the Zags, Cam Shelton — who hit the game-winning shot Thursday night — was 11 years old.

Few had never lost to Loyola at home, and this is his 24th season.

Well, this was one way to ensure the 100th all-time meeting between the two programs would be memorable. Gonzaga came in 78-21 against the Lions.

Loyola Marymount tipped off as a 6 ½-point underdog. This wasn’t exactly Eastern Illinois over Iowa in December, when the spread was 30-plus, but still.

Since the NCAA introduced the NET ratings in 2018, Gonzaga was 100-0 against opponents lower than Quad 1. Loyola was a Quad 3.

Apparently late January is where long streaks go to die. This defeat came almost five years to the very day when Gonzaga lost its last home game to Saint Mary’s on Jan. 18, 2018 — also a Thursday. And it happened precisely on the 49th anniversary of Notre Dame stopping UCLA’s 88-game winning streak on Jan. 19, 1974.

It also happened 43 years to the day that Gonzaga had 32 assists and outran Loyola 144-100.

Gonzaga was leading the nation with an 86.9 scoring average and 51.7 percent field goal shooting. The Zags were held 21 points under their average and shot only 44.4 percent.

Gonzaga is now 16-4. The Zags had five defeats in the past three regular seasons combined.

All-American Drew Timme had been 106-10 in his career at Gonzaga. The Lion who did the most to beat him Thursday night — Shelton with his 27 points and game-deciding runner bank shot with 14.7 seconds left — is now 25-25. He dribbled around Timme to score it.

But this might be most significant of all: Gonzaga’s hold over the WCC has clearly been loosened. The Zags just had to claw through a three-game stretch when they escaped San Francisco, Santa Clara and BYU by a total of eight points. They trailed San Francisco by 12, Santa Clara by 14 and BYU by 10. “We find ourselves getting punched in the mouth quick and fast by these teams,” guard Nolan Hickman said.

And now this. The defeat left Saint Mary’s alone at the top of the WCC standings, the first time since 2018 that Gonzaga has not at least shared the lead. The two will meet twice in February. Another extraordinary streak may well be in play come March. The Zags have won 19 of the past 24 WCC tournaments and have not failed to make the championship game in 25 years.

But almost anything seems possible in 2023. That’s what Thursday night showed.

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