The Gonzaga Bulldogs, in so many respects, accomplished what they wanted against Maryland on Thursday night.
But it wasn’t enough.
Not nearly enough, in fact, as Maryland poured in 36 points in the final 13minutes to quell a Bulldogs rally and power to an 87-63 NCAA Tournament opening-round win over Gonzaga.
Holding Terrapins All-American center Joe Smith to his second-lowest point total of the season (nine) and lowest rebound total (four), wasn’t enough.
Handling the vaunted Maryland press, considered among the most ferocious in the country, wasn’t enough.
And playing with such an intensity and grittiness that many of the impartials in the crowd of 12,369 began cheering enthusiastically for the Gonzaga Underdogs, er Bulldogs, wasn’t enough.
“I thought we played hard, but hard is not enough,” GU coach Dan Fitzgerald said. “The effort was tremendous, but that’s a Zag effort, and the reason you’re not happy with that is because you’re a Zag. Fact is, we really came here to win. And I believed we had a chance to win.”
Probably very few others in the country would have believed that, as No. 14 seeds such as Gonzaga (21-9) aren’t supposed to challenge No. 3 seeds such as Maryland, ranked 10th in the nation at 25-7.
But the Bulldogs did, especially in a magical minute early in the second half when reserve forward David Cole scored seven points in a 10-0 run that brought the Bulldogs to within seven points of Maryland. Further fueling Gonzaga hopes at the time was the fourth foul that sent Smith to the bench.
“I thought we were going to come back and maybe go on top,” said GU guard Kyle Dixon, who played brilliantly with six steals and four assists. “The problem is, we came out and we weren’t relaxed, and we dug ourselves a hole. We were anxious and we were doing everything too fast.”
And Maryland “did what the good teams do. They shut it off when they had to,” Fitzgerald said. “They hit three 3s in seven possessions and that really hurt us.”
Aside from Dixon’s six steals, a handful of other Bulldogs turned in performances strong enough to give them the notion that, for most of a game, at least, they can play with a team of major proportions.
Forward Jason Rubright actually outplayed Smith, thought to be among the top two or three players in the nation. Rubright finished with 13 points and six rebounds.
Center Paul Rogers scored 13 points with eight rebounds and blocked four shots, including one of Smith’s.
Cole came off the bench for nine points in 13 minutes.
Guard John Rillie compensated, in part, for an off shooting night by passing out eight assists and snaring seven rebounds.
On the other hand, the Bulldogs’ staples, the 3-point bomb and highpercentage inside shooting, were largely absent.
Rillie, who had singed the nets in the WCC Tournament last week, made just 3 of 11 3-point attempts.
“I kinda blame myself,” said Rillie, who was the MVP of the West Coast Conference Tournament, and the player who probably was most responsible for getting GU to its first NCAA Tournament. “I feel I practice enough to make those shots. Tonight, I had plenty of open looks, I just didn’t happen to knock them down, that was really the story.”
GU actually led, scoring the first basket on a Dixon drive 15 seconds into the game. But five turnovers in the first 4:15 caused the Bulldogs to fall behind 15-4.
Three-pointers by Rillie and Jon Kinloch fueled a brief GU run that cut it to five, 21-16, with 12:14 to go in the first half. Maryland answered with a 19-9 spurt to take the lead to 40-25 at intermission.
The Bulldogs didn’t help themselves - for instance, Paul Rogers missed a dunk shot and they committed 11 first-half turnovers. And they didn’t get much help, either, as the officials, at times, seemed to be on hand merely for ornamental purposes.
On a possession late in the half, Rillie went up for a shot, got clocked on the side of his head hard enough to force him to abort the shot, only to be called for traveling.
The second-half spurt caused upset hopes to build, but Maryland guard Duane Simpkins put them to rest by solving the riddle of the GU zone - shooting over it. Simpkins finished with a game-high 21 points, while Terp forward Keith Booth pulled down 15 rebounds - nine offensive.
Although disappointed with the result, Fitzgerald was elated by the experience.
“I’m 53 years old, and this is my first time here,” Fitzgerald said. “And all I know is I want to get back.” GONZAGA (21-12)
Kinloch 3-6 1-2 8, Rubright 4-9 4-4 13, Rogers 5-7 3-4 13, Dixon 3-9 0-1 6, Rillie 4-14 0-0 11, Williams 0-2 0-0 0, Nemeth 0-1 1-2 1, Cole 3-7 2-2 9, Morgan 0-0 0-0 0, Bond 0-0 0-0 0, Snider 1-2 0-1 2. Totals 23-57 11-16 63.
Hipp 6-10 2-5 15, Booth 4-10 1-2 9, Smith 4-9 1-2 9, Simpkins 7-14 4-4 21, Rhodes 5-12 0-0 12, Raydo 0-0 0-0 0, Kovarik 1-1 0-0 2, Judd 0-1 0-0 0, Jsikevicius 0-1 0-0 0, Lucas 2-8 0-0 4, Elliott 3-3 3-4 9, Bristol 2-3 1-2 6, Shultz 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 34-72 12-19 87.
Halftime-Maryland 40, Gonzaga 25. 3-Point goals-Gonzaga 6-25 (Rillie 3-11, Kinloch 1-4, Cole 1-4, Rubright 1-5, Dixon 0-1), Maryland 7-17 (Simpkins 3-6, Rhodes 2-5, Bristol 1-1, Hipp 1-2, Smith 0-1, Jsikevicius 0-1, Lucas 0-1). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Gonzaga 30 (Rogers 8), Maryland 49 (Booth 15). Assists-Gonzaga 15 (Rillie 8), Maryland 17 (Simpkins, Rhodes 4). Total fouls-Gonzaga 18, Maryland 18. A-12,369.
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