Wichita State knocked off No. 1 and is headed to Los Angeles as one of the biggest stories of the NCAA Tournament.
Two outrageously nervy three-pointers by two big-stage ready freshmen stunned top-ranked and top-seeded Gonzaga, lifting Wichita State to a 76-70 win at EngergySolutions Arena in the third round of the NCAA Tournament’s West Regional.
Ninth-seeded WSU (28-8) knocked off a No. 1 team for the first time since 1963 with a blend of three-point shooting and gritty defense. After the win, they celebrated in a mosh pit at halfcourt, surrounded by cameras. Gonzaga (32-3) walked silently off the court, paralyzed by a meltdown in the final minutes.
“This feeling is unimaginable,” WSU freshman Ron Baker said.
Senior Carl Hall could only smile.
“I can’t even hardly talk right now,” he said. “I can’t describe this feeling. It’s crazy.”
Words were not needed when the buzzer sounded. The black-and-yellow celebration on the court said it all. Cleanthony Early chest-bumped Chadrack Lufile. Baker stood alone near halfcourt, arms raised in celebration.
The Shockers posed for pictures, hugged fans and danced to the “Shocker War Chant” in front of the pep band. Coaches danced. Athletic director Eric Sexton danced. Family members danced. The band chanted “We going to L.A.”
Everybody danced. It was a night for dancing, Shocker style, in the Big Dance.
Next up for WSU is a trip to the Staples Center to face either 12th-seeded Mississippi or 13th-seeded La Salle on Thursday.
“Just a euphoric feeling,” WSU coach Gregg Marshall said. “It was just awesome. It was a natural reaction for me, really, hugging the people that I care about and letting them know.”
WSU wrote one of the biggest wins in its basketball history by rallying from a 49-41 deficit with under 12 minutes remaining. It appeared Gonzaga had the momentum and the pedigree to shrug off the spunky challengers. It did not, largely because of a hail of three-pointers.
Baker started the rally with a three after a timeout to cut the lead to 49-44. Early added one to bring WSU within 51-48. The Shockers kept coming from long range, using threes by Tekele Cotton, Early (16 points) and Baker (16 points) to get within 61-60 and force a timeout with 4:14 to play.
After a Kelly Olynyk miss, contested heavily by Hall, Hall made a 15-foot jumper to give the Shockers a 62-61 lead. A foul on Baker gave him two free throws for a 64-63 lead with 3:10 to play.
Then Gonzaga unraveled, starting with a mental error of the highest order.
After the free throws, guard Kevin Pangos tossed the ball inbound to David Stockton, who walked out of bound to pass the ball in. The referees caught it — with Marshall yelling for the violation — and gave the ball to WSU. Baker’s corner three made it 67-63. After two Gonzaga free throws, freshman Fred VanVleet (13 points) made a long three over Stockton with the shot clock winding down for a 70-65 lead.
“A definite miscommunication,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “A really bad time for that to happen.”
Gonzaga responded with another turnover, a wild pass up court that Olynyk tried to save. VanVleet made two free throws with 38.6 seconds to play for a 72-65 lead. Stockton’s layup cut WSU’s lead to 72-67.
Malcolm Armstead made two free throws with 15.2 seconds remaining for a 74-67 lead and the Shockers started celebrating. VanVleet added two more with 11.2 seconds remaining.
WSU, after going 2 of 20 from three-point range in Thursday’s win over Pittsburgh, made 14 of 28. Baker made 4 of 6. Early made 4 of 7. Cotton and VanVleet each added two.
The Shockers held Gonzaga to 35.6-percent shooting. Olynyk scored 26 points, needing 22 shots to get there. Pangos made 6 of 17 shots and scored 19 points.
The second half started ominously for WSU. Early picked up his third foul going for a rebound less than a minute into the half. Carl Hall got his third with 17:50 remaining. Gonzaga started the half on a 6-2 run to cut WSU’s lead to 38-37 with 15:09 to play. Fouls continued to mount, much to the displeasure of WSU fans and coaches. Jake White screamed after being called for a charge that handed the ball to Gonzaga.
WSU momentarily regained its footing with a press. Four Shockers surrounded Pangos and clawed the ball away. VanVleet’s three-point play stopped Gonzaga’s run and gave WSU a 41-37 lead.
It didn’t last long.
Pangos made WSU pay for a switch to a zone defense, burying a three from the wing. After an airball by Early, Mike Hart sank a corner three for a 43-41 lead and forced a timeout. A WSU turnover led to a jumper by Olynyk and the burst continued. Pangos stole the ball from Hall, trying to spin in the lane, and scored for a 49-41 lead.