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No. 1 Gonzaga’s perfect season ends in shocking loss to BYU

There will be no team chasing perfection in this year’s NCAA tournament.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga at Brigham Young Chris Nicoll-USA TODAY Sports

Gonzaga has been the most polarizing team in the country for the bulk of the 2016-17 college basketball season. Critics have pointed to their lack of competition in the West Coast Conference, while fans and defenders have noted their impressive non-conference victories and, oh yeah, the little fact that they appeared destined to be just the fifth team in the last 40 years to begin a season 30-0.

That defense is no longer on the table.

BYU stormed back from an early 18-2 deficit and stunned the top-ranked Bulldogs on their home court Saturday night. The 79-71 defeat in the regular season finale for both teams dropped Gonzaga to 29-1 heading into next week’s WCC tournament.

Despite the fact that he was squaring off against Gonzaga’s 7’1 behemoth Przemek Karnowski, BYU big man Eric Mika proved to be the star of stars on Saturday. The sophomore controlled the paint after his team’s slow start, finishing with 29 points on 10-of-14 shooting while also hauling down 11 rebounds. The Zags lost despite getting 19 points from All-American candidate Nigel Williams-Goss.

This marked the third straight season that Gonzaga has lost to BYU on its home court.

While BYU notched easily its most impressive win of the season, the Cougars still finished the WCC season with a disappointing 12-6 mark. They would almost certainly need to win capture the league’s auto-bid in order to make the NCAA tournament.

The bigger story is quite clearly what the loss means for Gonzaga. While their shot at becoming college basketball’s first undefeated champion since 1975-76 is now out the window, there’s still a chance that Mark Few’s team could earn a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday if it wins the WCC tournament. The Zags own quality victories over the stellar trio of Arizona, Florida and Iowa State, and also handily defeated nationally-ranked Saint Mary’s in both their regular season meetings.

As far as the national perception of Gonzaga, Saturday night’s surprise is certain to only ratchet things up. The detractors now have the ammo they’ve been waiting for, while the defenders will have to wait and hope to have the last laugh in March.