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End of the line Purdue derails GU’s dreams of Final Four

Suddenly, the face paint, blue hair and fanatical outfits didn’t seem so fun anymore. Not after it was over. Not after Gonzaga had lost, 75-66, to Purdue in the Sweet 16 at The Pit on Thursday. After that, all that was left to do was pick up the hearts that all the Gonzaga faithful have worn on their sleeves for the past two years and head home. Back to Boone Street. Back to Spokane. Back to the sleepy little school that has captured the imagination of a nation for two years and beaten most of the best that college basketball had to offer. “What a ride it’s been,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. And what memories the Zags’ unprecedented back-to-back trips to the Sweet 16 - or beyond - have created. Five seniors - Mike Nilson, Richie Frahm, Matt Santangelo, Axel Dench and Ryan Floyd - have created an indelible memory not only in their lives but also in those of everyone around them. Years from now, mothers and fathers will be telling sons and daughters how they cut class, drove all day and all night and slept in the parking lot of the Albuquerque Motel 6. All for a basketball game. But really, it was all for so much more. These two years have been Gonzaga’s chance to shine in the national spotlight. In their seven NCAA tournament games in the past two years, the Bulldogs were favored only once. But that didn’t stop them. They still beat Minnesota, Stanford, Florida, Louisville and St. John’s. Those programs have combined for 79 trips to the NCAA tournament. Gonzaga has been there three times. And GU was one of only three programs to make it to the past two Sweet 16s. “Look at the schools that have done this the past two years - Michigan State, Duke and Gonzaga,” Gonzaga Athletic Director Mike Roth said. “It’s hard to imagine what they have done for the notoriety for the university. “Just look at the stuff that is going on around the country with people saying, `We love you, Gonzaga. Go Gonzaga. We want you to win the whole thing,”’ he said. It’s true. In the eyes of the basketball fan, Gonzaga has finally moved from being just John Stockton’s school to a basketball program. Think about it. No other team has ever made back-to-back Sweet 16s as a No. 10 seed. “Ten, 15, 20 years down the road people will continue to talk about this,” Roth said. For the players, the talk will last much longer. “What a run … career,” Santangelo said. “I have been tremendously blessed to have had an opportunity to play on the stage that we did. And to have the success that we’ve had.” Those around the program and fans across the nation have been blessed to watch it all. But, still, at the end, it was the Zags giving to the fans. When the game and ride were over, the players turned to their fans and applauded. Just to thank them. And when the Zags finally ran off the floor, all 18,000 in the Pit applauded them. Just to thank them.
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