ESPN called it the story of what went wrong for top-seeded Gonzaga on “SportsCenter.”
Another way to look at Saturday night’s game is what went right for Wichita State, which upset Gonzaga 76-70 in the NCAA round of 32 at EnergySolutions Arena.
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Ninth-seeded Wichita State, 28-8, sealed one of the biggest wins in program history with a 7-minute burst of near perfection on offense. The Shockers added in enough of their signature gritty defense to send the top-ranked Bulldogs, 32-3, home earlier than most expected.
“We won because we made shots at the end, and that’s what counted,” Wichita State senior Carl Hall said. “We just got a team full of fighters.”
Wichita State takes that fight to an even bigger stage, the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles against No. 13 seed La Salle around 9:15 p.m. Thursday on TBS. The Shockers are two wins away from the Final Four, thanks to a rally that caught the nation’s attention and made ESPN’s Dick Vitale a prophet for picking them over Gonzaga.
The Shockers trailed 58-51 with 6:29 to play, knocked back again after cutting an eight-point deficit to three. Instead of stepping aside, Wichita State scored on its next eight possessions and skipped one only because of missed free throws. That run produced a 72-67 lead, and four free throws wrapped it up. The numbers show the Shockers scored on 10 of their final 12 possessions — including five straight three-pointers — and outscored one of the nation’s best scoring teams 25-12 in the final 6:05.
“They stepped up and made big shot after big shot,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
Memories for the Shockers. A nightmare for the Bulldogs.
Tekele Cotton started the rally with a corner three-pointer over a defender. Cleanthony Early anchored his toes to the court to avoid a traveling call and passed to Ron Baker, who made a three and cut the lead to 61-60. Hall made a rare 15-foot jumper for a one-point lead. Coach Gregg Marshall gyrated and yelled as the officials called Gonzaga’s David Stockton for a turnover. Baker hit another corner three.
“It was pretty indescribable, the feeling when your shot goes in,” Baker said. “It’s something that just sends chills down your spine with how exciting it is.”
Then, the game’s indelible image: The Shockers’ Fred VanVleet, with the shot clock running down, lost the ball briefly, regained it and shot a long three over Stockton. VanVleet held his follow-through in the air as the ball went in the basket, sending the Shockers to the Sweet 16.
“It was majestic, and it was forever,” Marshall said.