Gonzaga's historic season came to an unfulfilling conclusion Saturday when No. 9 Wichita State handed the top-ranked and top-seeded Bulldogs a 76-70 loss in the round of 32.
The Shockers did it by making 14 of 28 3-pointers -- two nights after hitting 2 of 20 -- and riding the contributions of unsung players Fred VanVleet (13 points) and Ron Baker (16 points, four 3s). Gonzaga had a 58-51 lead with 6:30 left, but the Shockers scored on eight consecutive possessions to pull off the upset.
And with that, Gonzaga's storybook season (32 wins, first No. 1 ranking and first No. 1 NCAA Tournament seeding) came to an abrupt ending. My game story here and S-R photos here, and an unedited notebook is below.
UPDATE: Here's John Blanchette's column.
By Jim Meehan and Christian Caple
SALT LAKE CITY – Elias Harris, one of three Gonzaga seniors, would do it all over again, except change the ending.
“It just hurts,” said Harris, who had 12 points and seven boards in Gonzaga’s 76-70 NCAA Tournament loss to Wichita State on Saturday. “It’ll take time to get over this. Great coaching staff, great group of guys. If I could do it all over again with the same group of guys, I would.”
The forward’s stellar career ended with another tough outing. He was held to five points on 2-of-10 shooting in Thursday’s win over Southern. He made just 2 of 8 shots against the Shockers.
Harris and the rest of the Zags were struggling to put a wildly successful season – a 32-3 record, a rise to No. 1 in the polls and a No. 1 seed in the tournament – into perspective after a stunning loss that sent GU packing from the tournament for the fourth straight year in the round of 32.
“I don’t know how to put it,” sophomore guard Kevin Pangos said. “We didn’t play our best. They were hitting shots. I guess they did beat us tonight.
“It’s tough. We did so many great things all year and this one we fell short. Everyone in this locker room really wanted this one.”
GU will lose Harris, Mike Hart and Guy Landry Edi. Junior forward Kelly Olynyk, who poured in 26 points, faces a decision in the near future on whether he will return to Gonzaga next season or make himself eligible for the NBA Draft.
Olynyk addressed his teammates in a sullen locker room.
“Guys were upset that we weren’t going to be able to play together again,” he said. “We just wanted to extend this as far as we could. I told them it doesn’t take anything away from what we’ve done, or anything from you as a person or us as a team. Everyone is going to go forward and do their thing and improve. It’s not the end of the road for any of us.”
Of his plans, Olynyk said, “I haven’t thought about that at all. We just lost 20 minutes ago.”
Sophomore guard Gary Bell Jr. left the game early in the second half with a lingering injury. He went scoreless in 19 first-half minutes, then exited after a few minutes early in the second half.
“Just a nagging injury,” Bell said, pointing to the top of his right foot, near his ankle. “At halftime it got a little stiff and I couldn’t go after that. It (happened) against (Southern on Thursday), but I don’t know what really happened.
“It’s frustrating, playing the whole year and not to play in the last game was kind of hard.”
Turning up the heat
Gregg Marshall was tired of watching Gonzaga’s post players get to the rim, grab offensive rebounds and go to the free throw line.
So the Wichita State coach called for the Shockers to extend their defensive pressure to three-quarter court and, eventually, employed a full-court press that he thought helped throw the Bulldogs off.
“I don’t think they liked it,” Marshall said, noting that Pangos still managed to shake loose for a pair of 3-pointers. “But I do think that may have taken the out of the rhythm, and you’re less likely to foul and we were in the bonus again. I did not want Olynyk or Harris and those guys to drive and get to the foul line.”