March 24, 2006 in City

The Slice: Heartbreak

Paul Turner The Spokesman-Review
Brian Plonka photo

Gonzaga forward Adam Morrison collapses to the floor after UCLA eliminated the Bulldogs by scoring the game’s final 11 points.
(Full-size photo)

OAKLAND – When Adam Morrison’s eyes teared up at the end, I’ll bet he had a lot of company.

So close.

So close.

Gonzaga’s heartbreaking 73-71 loss to resilient UCLA ends the Zags’ 2006 NCAA tournament run.

It wasn’t supposed to be over yet.

But the poise those players showed in the moments after seeing their dream snuffed out was more awesome than any fade-away jumper or slam dunk.

One moment, victory seemed imminent. And then, well, you saw it. I don’t need to tell you.

Bad things happen to good people.

As the last GU shot failed to deliver a thrilling comeback and the horn called the time of death, the Gonzaga Bulldogs looked positively stricken. Several probably wouldn’t grimace more if stabbed.

But then they got up off the floor. They hugged each other. And they saluted their crestfallen fans.

Still, Morrison’s emotional reaction at the end seemed fitting.

A sports loss is not a tragedy.

But man, the way that game ended stung.

For fans who believe in omens, there was plenty of superstition fuel.

How about Morrison scoring the first basket of the game?

Or what about UCLA’s atrocious shooting early?

Or how about when UCLA scored on a lob/dunk, and Morrison immediately answered with an in-close basket?

The list goes on and on.

Of course, there are GU fans who get nervous when things seem to be going – how should I put it – a bit too well.

But let’s face it. Some fans start the game nervous and pretty much stay that way until it has been decided. (You know who you are.)

That’s one thing that separates mere mortals from the players.

Those kids don’t scare quite so easily.

Thursday night here in California, you could see it in their eyes.

Never mind what many of the media gasbags said. The boys in blue expected to win.

There was no just-happy-to-be-here timidity. No emotional wilting when UCLA showed signs of life.

Those boys are like fighters who take a punch and crack a smile.

It’s not just Morrison. If any one of those guys told you he’s got your back, I think it’s safe to say you could count on your back being seriously gotten.

Yes, they lost. It happens.

Doesn’t mean they aren’t a winning group of kids.

So, OK, I know what you’re thinking. “See in their eyes? C’mon.”

Well, most of the almost 20,000 onlookers might have been rooting for UCLA. But my courtside front-row seat was deep in the heart of the Zags Triangle.

The GU cheerleaders were a pompon’s throw away, to my right. Immediately behind them, about a half note away, was the GU Pep Band. The main Zags cheering contingent was at my back.

Spike the mascot was in my field of view 110 percent of the time.

And directly across the court was the Zags bench.

How close to the action was I? Close enough to hear Morrison yell “That’s mine!” while grabbing a rebound.

Close enough to read players tattoos.

Close enough to catch an errant first-half pass. That’s how close.

I wish every Gonzaga fan could get to watch a game from that vantage at least once. You see things.

You see that those boys want to win like few of us want anything in life.

And you see that dreams don’t always come true.

There’s no reason to stop cheering for them now.

Here we go, Bulldogs. Here we go.

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