NCAA Tournament: Wichita State knocks off No. 1 Gonzaga
Scratch No. 1 Gonzaga out of your bracket and replace it with the Shockers.
It was a real shocker, all right.
Ninth-seeded Wichita State hit the bull’s eye when it came to knocking out the top-seeded Bulldogs, scoring a thrilling 76-70 victory in front of a crowd of 16,060 at EnergySolutions Arena.
The win sends Wichita State to next week’s West Regional semifinals at Staples Center. The Shockers will face the winner of Sunday’s game between Mississippi and La Salle.
“This feeling is unimaginable,” said freshman guard Ron Baker, one of Wichita State’s heroes.
Baker scored 16 points, making four of his team’s 14 three-pointers, and deflated Gonzaga with big shots in the final minutes.
The first game in Salt Lake wasn’t nearly as dramatic, as No. 6 Arizona routed No. 14 Harvard, 74-51.
The Wildcats earned the second of four tickets to Los Angeles and will meet Ohio State or Iowa State.
Gonzaga (32-3) returns home to Spokane after a bitter defeat, ending a season many thought could have brought the Bulldogs their first national title.
It was only their third defeat but, man, was it wrenching.
“A tough, tough way to end a fabulous season,” Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said.
Forward Elias Harris said, “I don’t even know what’s going through my head right now. . . .I’ll was a heck of a year. It’s just over now and it’s sad. It hurts.”
Wichita State (28-8) had not played a No. 1 team since it was routed by 34 points at UCLA in December 1967.
This game was a lot closer.
Gonzaga thought it was on its way to L.A. after overcoming a 13-point deficit to take a seven-point lead with 5:30 left on a three-point basket by Kevin Pangos.
The Bulldogs’ lead then painfully evaporated.
The worst sequence came at the three-minute mark after Baker’s two free throws put Wichita State up, 64-63.
Gonzaga guard David Stockton, playing in the same city where his dad John starred for years with the Utah Jazz, and Harris mis-communicated on an inbounds pass, resulting in a turnover.
The mistake might have been overcome had Baker not immediately drilled a baseline three-pointer to put the Shockers up by four.
Gonzaga tried to scramble back but could never recover.
So now we shift from one mid-major story, Gonzaga, to another.
In 1999, Gregg Marshall coached tiny Winthrop to its first NCAA tournament and lost to Auburn by 39 points.
Now in his sixth year at Wichita State, Marshall has the Shockers two wins from the Final Four.
After the game, he danced like a little kid in front of the Wichita State pep band.
“We’re going to celebrate tonight in Salt Lake and we cannot wait to get to L.A.,” Marshall said.
The West Regional bracket has now officially been sandblasted, losing seeds No, 3, 4, 5 and 7.
In the early game, Arizona easily avoided what could have been a double-disaster upset night.
The Wildcats essentially did to Harvard what No. 3 New Mexico was supposed to have done Thursday night.
And that only makes Harvard’s upset more remarkable. The Crimson pitched a near-perfect game, shooting 52% from the field while holding New Mexico to 37%.
The scripts were flipped Saturday, as Harvard missed its first 13 shots while Arizona seemingly couldn’t miss. The Crimson did not score its first basket until 7 minutes 45 seconds into the game.
“I really felt that doomed us from the start,” Harvard Coach Tommy Amaker said.
Arizona ran off to a 37-15 lead and was never going to be chased down.
The rim, which seemed big as a bathtub to Harvard on Thursday, shrank to the size of a pinkie ring.
Harvard made only 16 of 58 attempts (27.6%), while Arizona shot 55% (27 for 49) and made nine of 15 three-point tries.
That, basketball fans, is a prescription for Ivy League defeat.
Harvard had no answer for senior guard Mark Lyons, the transfer from Xavier, who zigzagged his way to a 27-point night on 12 for 17 shooting.
Arizona won two games in Salt Lake City by 40 points, with Lyons scoring 50 and making 20 of 32 shots.
“Mark is filled with confidence and when he gets his confidence going it’s contagious on our entire team,” Arizona Coach Sean Miller said.
Lyons’ play caused a full-blown outbreak.
“My teammates got me the ball in the right position,” he said.
Arizona (27-7) was bigger and stronger and looked again like the title-contending team it was considered early in the season after beating Florida and Miami.
“Film didn’t give them as much credit as they deserve,” Harvard’s Siyani Chambers said of Arizona.
Amaker said Arizona had “all the pieces” to make a national-title run.
This same Arizona team, though, also lost to UCLA three times and was 6-5 in its last 11 games before Saturday.
It will be interesting to see which Arizona team shows up in Los Angeles.
We know now, stunningly that Wichita State will also be there.
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