The 2008-2009 season began as hopeful as any season in recent memory for the Gonzaga men's basketball team. The Zags entered the season with arguably their best team in school history, as the roster carried a slew of potential NBA draft picks.
However, after a successful start which saw the Zags win the Old Spice Classic over three tourney teams—Maryland, Oklahoma State, and Tennessee—Mark Few's squad lost four of their next five.
Gonzaga rediscovered their early-season form once they entered conference play, as they went undefeated and eventually won the West Coast Conference tournament.
The season came to a bittersweet end when the Zags suffered a 21-point loss to North Carolina—a loss that doesn't seem so crushing after the Heels dismissed their remaining opponents with the same vigor and precision.
Before the 2008-09 season passes too far from memory, let's take a look back at some of the highlights (and lowlights) of this past season.
Coming off a shaky performance against Akron in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the Zags were out to show the college basketball world that they were a better team than the one that faced the Zips.
Simultaneously, Gonzaga hoped to do away with the underachieving reputation the team had gotten due to their early-round exits in recent years.
Gonzaga looked poised to do those things when they took a seven-point lead over the Hilltoppers with just a little over two minutes left in their second-round matchup.
The Zags however, had no answer for WKU guard Oscar Mendez-Valdez who led a late Western Kentucky charge to make it a two-point game with less than 15 seconds go.
Any relief for Zags fans that came when A.J. Slaughter missed a go-ahead three pointer was erased when Steffphon Pettigrew tapped in the rebound to tie the game, seemingly sending the Zags back home with another March heartbreak.
However, Mark Few decided not to call a timeout, and amidst some of the best players in Zags history, the ball ended up in the hands of freshmen guard Demetri Goodson.
All Goodson did was charge down the court and through the Hilltoppers defense before banking home the game winning shot, sending the Portland crowd into a frenzy, and carving out one of the lasting images of the 2009 NCAA tournament.
For a sports fan, there is seldom a worse moment to a season than that second when you realize that your team has been eliminated from championship contention.
Sometimes it comes on a last-second loss, and sometimes it comes with a preseason injury. For the 2008-09 Zags, it came with 11:51 to go in the second half of their Sweet 16 match up against North Carolina.
Despite playing fairly well the first half, the Zags could not match up with the hot Heels' shooting. Gonzaga found themselves down 21 at one point in the second half.
However, a quick rally midway through the second half pulled the Zags within 11 of UNC, and forced the Heels into a timeout.
Coming out of that timeout, North Carolina's Bobby Frasor came down the court and responded with a three-pointer, and after the Zags' Steven Gray missed his own triple at the other end, Frasor hit a second three-pointer with 30 seconds left to effectively eliminate Gonzaga from the tournament.
Heading into the NCAA tournament, the Zags had only lost one game in 2009, but that loss was an 18-point demolition at the hands of Memphis.
So, in the West Coast Conference tournament final, facing a Saint Mary's team that had returned star Patty Mills and was in need of a win to insure an NCAA bid, the Zags had an opportunity to cement their spot as a top-four seed on Selection Sunday.
The Zags jumped out to an 8-0 lead and never relented. Gonzaga had six players score in double digits against the Gaels, and shot 55 percent from the field, including nine three-pointers.
By game's end, the Zags had completed an 83-58 whipping of their conference rival, and assured themselves a short trip for the first two rounds of the tourney.
When Memphis showed up in Spokane for their Feb. 7 game with the Zags, they weren't alone—ESPN's College Gameday crew had set up their pre-game operations on the court of The Kennel.
Billed as a midseason matchup of mid-major powers, Gonzaga had an opportunity to erase the bad memories of their poor stretch a few months earlier, and propel their team into the season's last stretch.
Too bad Memphis had the same idea.
The Tigers got out to an early lead, and when they took a 17-point lead into halftime, John Calipari's boys had effectively taken the raucous Zags crowd out of the game and deflated the energy from the building.
The Zags weren't able to make any headway in the second half, and left The Kennel that night with lingering doubts about their team's NCAA potential hanging overhead.
Though a heralded high school player through two years in Spokane, Matt Bouldin had never been able to capture the same consistency and flash that had made him a two-time Mr. Colorado in basketball.
However, after back-court mate Jerermy Pargo struggled midway through the non-conference schedule, Bouldin started to capture that form, and busted out with a 26-point performance in the Zags' early January win at Tennessee.
That game began a stretch that would see Bouldin score 10-plus points in 18 of the Zags' final 22 games. Bouldin finished the season as the Zags' leader in minutes, steals, and he finished second on the team in points and assists.
For Zags fans, though, the most important state regarding Bouldin is his class. Bouldin is a junior and, barring some highly unforeseen circumstance, will return to lead Gonzaga in 2009-2010 as the presumptive leader of a team that should still be nationally relevant.
Most Disappointing Player
Much of the optimism behind the Zags heading into the season was based on the predicted progression of senior Jeremy Pargo.
Pargo never seemed to be able to get going completely, and though he was able to work through early season games, he struggled during the Zags' stretch of four losses in five games.
In those losses, the Zags point guard averaged 4.5 turnovers a game.
Overall, when compared to Pargo's numbers as a junior, the senior point guard put up fewer points, assists, and rebounds.
More than that, Pargo went from a fringe first/second round NBA draft prospect to a mid-second rounder at best.