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Gonzaga’s joy only matched by Xavier’s sorrow

UPDATED: Sat., March 25, 2017, 10:54 p.m.

Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski begins his celebration as Xavier guard J.P. Macura knows the end is near in an NCAA Elite Eight game, Sat., March 25, 2017, in San Jose. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski begins his celebration as Xavier guard J.P. Macura knows the end is near in an NCAA Elite Eight game, Sat., March 25, 2017, in San Jose. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

SAN JOSE, Calif. – RaShid Gaston slumped on the bench in front of his locker and realized his career as a college basketball player was over. Then the reporters rushed in.

Gaston scarcley had time to gather his emotions, much less control them, but gamely tried to keep them in check as he described how much it hurt to watch his Final Four dreams die over the preceding two hours.

Of all the NCAA’s dubious rules – and you know there are some doozies – the cruelest is the one that states teams that lose in the Elite Eight must face the media first.

For every dream achieved during March Madness many more are crushed, and the jubilation felt by a program that finally breaks through to the Final Four is matched only by the sorrow of the one that didn’t.

The Zags wiped away their tears of joy on freshly-printed blue-and-red T-shirts reading “CUT THE NET.” Bulldogs coach Mark Few described an “incredible feeling of elation and satisfaction.”

The Musketeers had to use their jerseys as they and their coach trudged to the podium for a postgame press conference while the Bulldogs were still, well, cutting down nets.

“Our guys have nothing to hang our heads about,” coach Chris Mack said, before acknowledging, “They’re obviously down.”

Every Musketeer who was asked said that it was tougher to lose as an 11-seed in 2017 just a few breaks away from the Final Four than it had been to lose as a No. 2 seed early in the 2016 tournament.

Surely the loss is more painful in part because it is more recent. But the Musketeers did not see themselves as plucky underdogs who were lucky to be on the same floor as the Zags. They were a team that had already beaten title contenders Arizona and Florida State, and now just had to get past the team that had gone ice-cold from beyond the arc all tournament.

How painful to watch that idea undone by a flurry of 3-pointers - GU made 61.5-percent from out there in the first half.

At least the Musketeers were spared the unfairness of a season-ending buzzer-beater or a questionable call to decide the game and give the players a lifetime spent asking, “Whatif?” But Xavier came close, closer than all but seven out of 347 Division-I teams, and has still been to just as many Final Fours as when the basketball program was founded in 1920.

It’s a long road to the Final Four. And it’s a long walk home for the teams that don’t get there.



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