Throughout the various media obligations that succeeded Gonzaga's win over Saint Mary's in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game, head coach Mark Few delivered a consistent tagline.
This result, this one in which his Bulldogs were WCC champions, owned a 31-2 record and were primed to be the top seed in the NCAA Tournament's West Region, was a collective effort. Thirty-three tune-up games in preparation for the Big Dance afforded each of the Zags' seven rotation players a chance to have their day, and that they did.
When a reporter directed a question toward Few, inviting him to bestow effusive praise on redshirt sophomore guard Joel Ayayi (17 points, seven rebounds and two steals against Saint Mary's) and freshman forward Drew Timme (17 points on 7-of-8 shooting), both of whom earned all-tournament nods, Few veered down a slightly different path.
"Two stars have been born," Andy Katz of NCAA.com said while interviewing Few on stage after the trophy presentation. "What can you say about the way in which Joel and Drew have really blossomed into the kind of players that we saw this week?"
"I mean, they've done it already many times in many big moments for us this year, going all the way back to the tournament in the Bahamas (Battle 4 Atlantis)," Few replied earnestly. "I think it shows the terrific balance and the togetherness of this team. Literally, every one of these guy has had nights like that. That's what makes this such a special team."
Later, in front of a smaller audience, Few, seated at the post-game presser, relayed a nearly identical message. One way or another, the 57-year-old was determined to ensure everyone knew that while Ayayi and sophomore forward Filip Petrusev joined him on this night's media panel, nobody should consider them the season's lone standouts.
"This isn't the first time Joel's done that. Filip's delivered time and time again inside now," Few said. "There's five other guys in (the locker room) that have made plays and you could make solid arguments for MVPs.
"The beauty of this team is our balance. That's been the greatest asset we've had all year."
Many nights, media flocked toward Petrusev — who earned various All-American accolades this season — senior forward Killian Tillie or junior forward Corey Kispert. But over the duration of this four-month season, everyone among the seven-deep rotation earned an evening flanked by cameras and the press.
Let's acknowledge the fondest individual moments of the season, involving each player central to Gonzaga's journey to a now-extinct No. 1 seed.
Nov. 19: 72-66 win over Texas-Arlington
After missing the initial four games of the year due to a knee procedure, Tillie returned to the lineup and was welcomed with a lion's roar from The Kennel before posting 15 points (6-of-11 shooting), eight boards, one assist and one steal. He sparked the scoring for Gonzaga with a triple from the top of the key and punctuated the bucket with a yell and slap of his chest on the way back down the floor.
"I needed that 3 to get going," Tillie said at the time. "Last year, I air-balled my first 3, I think (editor's note: he did). I was happy to knock it down."
While most of the attention landed on Tillie's season debut, a subplot was developing that night. Graduate transfer guard Ryan Woolridge was facing Texas-Arlington — a school he once planned to attend before his circumstances changed — for the third consecutive season. In two prior meetings, the Mavericks sagged way off of him and dared the speedster to burn them beyond the arc. He went 0 of 2 from deep in each game but on this November night, the redshirt senior buried 3 of 7 long balls and finished with a then-season-high 19 points in the victory.
Just before halftime, Woolridge knifed into the paint and converted an off-hand finish at the rim. As the clock expired, he backpedaled toward Gonzaga's locker room, staring down the UT Arlington bench. It was a feisty display of attitude from someone Few often labeled quiet or introverted.
"I've been seeing him do that since the sixth grade," said graduate transfer guard Admon Gilder Jr., who played AAU with Woolridge. "I think that's what gets him going, when somebody else on the opposite team gets him going."
Nov. 28: Battle 4 Atlantis Semifinal: 73-72 win over No. 11 Oregon
In what many fans will deem Gonzaga's most exhilarating game of the year, the Bulldogs fended off a talented West Coast foe and moved to 8-0 on the season. Other victories are in the running but a neutral-site win over the Ducks, which won the Pac-12 regular-season crown and ended the year 13th in the AP Top 25, is likely the Zags' top resume-boosting result.
Petrusev established himself on a national scale by overpowering an undersized Oregon front line en route to 22 points (7-of-15 shooting, 8 of 9 at the stripe), 15 rebounds and three blocks. As the Zags exited the court following their marquee win, Timme enveloped Petrusev from behind, looked into the camera tracking alongside them, pointed to his teammate and said, "Best player in the country right here, man. Best player in the country." Petrusev, surfing a wave of jubilant emotion after securing the game-clinching defensive rebound, simply nodded in agreement.
Before that moment, though, and before Petrusev's rebound in overtime was required for victory, there was Kispert's pair of monumental 3s late in regulation. The 6-foot-7 wing drilled a triple to put Gonzaga ahead 63-59 with 1:37 remaining and on the next possession, buried another to push the lead to 66-61 with 1:13 to play. At the time, the latter one seemed like it iced the game, only for Payton Pritchard's heroics and a costly turnover from Woolridge to extend the action.
Kispert's 5-of-8 performance from range against Oregon capped off a two-game, 12-of-16 stretch beyond the arc and snapped him out of a 2-of-17 dry spell the prior three games.
“That hoop felt so big,” Kispert later told me.
Dec. 8: 83-76 win over No. 22 Washington
In a seesaw affair between ranked, intrastate rivals, Gonzaga notched its 10th victory of the season and extended its winning streak over the Huskies to five games. Tillie continued his run of versatile impact, steadying the ship defensively for the Zags and dicing apart Washington's zone with playmaking and outside shooting for 15 points (3 of 6 from deep), six assists, four steals and one block.
After Washington narrowed the Bulldogs' advantage to 72-70, Tillie drained an NBA-range bomb as the shot clock tricked down with fewer than three minutes left. Later, when the Dawgs once again made it a one-score game, Ayayi sealed the deal by way of another NBA-caliber triple to give Gonzaga an 82-76 lead with 27 seconds to go. This one was hoisted from the right wing, just two possessions after he clanked a similar attempt from the left wing. The bucket came amid a 4-of-13 shooting day for Ayayi but conveyed a steadfast self-confidence in pressure situations that manifested throughout year.
"When the team needs me," Ayayi said of his knack for late-game heroics after a win over San Francisco on March 9, "I'm gonna answer."
Jan. 4: 75-70 win over Pepperdine
In the Bulldogs' second game of conference play, Pepperdine pushed them to the wire and Gonzaga never led by more than nine points. Most importantly, this contest marked a continued resurgence for Gilder, who battled a knee ailment during the early portion of the year and had to adjust to a bench role when Ayayi supplanted him in December as a starter. Against Pepperdine, he finished with 11 points (4-of-7 shooting), five rebounds and four steals, looking the part of the defender and slasher that Gonzaga had recruited months earlier.
After the Waves' star guard, Colbey Ross, lit up the Zags in the first half, Gilder helped contain him down the stretch, when Ross scored nine points on 3-of-11 shooting in the second half. He repeatedly stifled Ross on the ball and tallied seven of his 11 points in that frame, including two game-clinching free throws after emerging from a loose-ball scramble with the rebound.
"He was great. It was because of his energy, hustle and making plays, getting out in the lane, got the steal and laid it up," Few said after the win. "We needed more proactive plays. We were getting a little reactive."
While Gilder's second-half spurt was key in the win, Tillie logged his second consecutive 20-plus-point outing, adding four rebounds and four assists, and swatted Ross' game-typing 3-point attempt with under 10 seconds to go. The 6-foot-10 big man showed off his feathery interior touch and consistently found the creases in the Waves' defense to burn them as a facilitator. But all of that may have been inconsequential if not for his timely defense.
"I knew Colbey was gonna shoot a 3," Tillie said after the game. "I could see he just wanted to get it and shoot a 3. High-screen, I just jumped on him and blocked it."
Feb. 8: 90-60 win over Saint Mary's
Among Gonzaga's brief list of meaningful games this year (let's be honest, when you go 31-2 and generally cruise to that record, most games are trivial), this one against Saint Mary's is probably most emblematic of the roster's well-rounded nature. Five dudes scored between 10 and 20 points. Everyone who played 20-plus minutes shot 50 percent or better from both the field and beyond the arc. The Zags' help rotations and interior defense were the crispest they looked all season.
Timme led the way with 20 points (7-of-8 shooting, 6 of 6 at the line) and 10 rebounds; Petrusev notched 18 points (8-of-11 shooting), 11 boards, two assists and one steal; Tillie contributed 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting (3 of 5 from deep); Woolridge (11) and Kispert (10) chipped in a combined 21 points on 10-of-14 shooting.
There are no paramount plays to highlight because the Bulldogs pummeled their conference rivals and served the Gaels their worst home loss since 2001. Ayayi drilled a 3 at the 19:23 mark of the first half to open the scoring and Gonzaga held an advantage the rest of the way, netting 14 of its initial 15 field goal attempts. The Zags entered the break up 53-28 and led by as many as 34 late in the second period.
It was Gonzaga's most impressive outing of the year: taking to the road and routing a team that finished the season ranked 31st in NET.
“At the beginning, it kind of felt unreal, like, ‘Is this really happening?’ type of deal,” Woolridge told Jim Meehan of The Spokesman-Review. “And then, we just kept sticking with it. We limit those turnovers and we knock it out of the park.”
March 10: WCC Tournament Championship: 84-66 win over Saint Mary's
Inside Las Vegas' Orleans Arena, amid a sea of Gonzaga blue and red, with a raucous, upperclassmen-laden student section parked in one endzone, the Bulldogs unknowingly wrapped up their 2019-20 campaign by completing a season sweep of their foes to the south. After trading blows in an electric first half and entering the break clinging to a 42-41 lead, the Zags out-scored Saint Mary's 42-25 in the second half.
Gaels guard Jordan Ford, who backpacked his team in the first half for 20 points on 7-of-11 shooting, was held to seven points (all on free throws) and missed each of his four field goal attempts following intermission.
The victory exacted revenge for last year, when Saint Mary's defeated the Zags 60-47 in the WCC title game. Those who were members of both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 squads received messages from last year's players offering clear instructions: Let's not let it happen again. Just go out there and ball.
"We just had a mindset of redemption," Ayayi said.
With 17 points, seven boards, two steals and one block, Ayayi parlayed his performance into a Most Outstanding Player trophy, which had him singing, smiling and dancing across the court during the post-game celebration. And while that honor deservedly rests on his mantle, it was Timme who captivated audiences in the loudest manner this day, scoring 17 points on 7-of-8 shooting, including a white-hot stretch late in the first half.
Between the three-minute and 40-second mark, he scored nine of the Bulldogs' 11 points, lifting Gonzaga from a 37-31 deficit to a 42-38 lead. The freshman from Texas busted out his retro skill set of shot fakes, up-and-under tricks and textbook footwork, leaving ESPN's Dick Vitale to flood him with superlatives such as:
"Mr. Timme, my guy!"
"You mean that guy doesn't start? He could start for 90% of the schools in America!
"He's my new favorite player, love him!"
"Oh, baby, a star is being born here today!
"My adopted son, I've always wanted a son."
As his momentum swelled, the bravado that defined Timme's demeanor in high school shined through. He danced with teammates after an and-1, twirled his finger in the air on another bucket — referencing the spin move he used to score — and (seemingly) trash-talked his opponents following his final basket of the half.
"We knew with Drew, we had a Gonzaga guy," Few said that night. "He's tough, he's confident, hardworking. You can coach him and coach him hard, and he handles that well. He's just got an enthusiasm, an energy, that he brings, like some of our other former players have been great with, whether it was Rob Sacre or Zach Norvell (Jr.). Those types that just brought it every day and you just appreciate that approach.
"I even told him today, I thought he was gonna have a breakout game tonight."
It is fitting, then, that Few turned a question focused on a singular player into a reference about others he's coached. Because everyone had their day in the sun — and don't you forget this.
Not that Few would ever let you.