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Bulldogs hit pothole NCAA road ends in Pit Wyoming registers upset as cold shooting brings Gonzaga’s season to jarring conclusion

All season it had been, at worst, an either-or thing with Gonzaga University’s sixth-ranked men’s basketball team. Either the Bulldogs’ guards would light it up from the perimeter, or the bigs would muscle up and score inside. On most nights, the Zags had both working. But in Thursday’s opening round of the NCAA West Regional men’s basketball tournament, GU had neither the “either” nor the “or.” And 10th-seeded Wyoming took advantage of the sixth-seeded Bulldogs’ weakened condition by saddling them with an unexpected 73-66 loss at The Pit. The defeat snapped Gonzaga’s 14-game winning and ended the Zags’ remarkable string of three consecutive runs to the NCAA’s Sweet 16. Now, instead of preparing for a much-anticipated second-round matchup against third-seeded Arizona, the Bulldogs (29-4) will pack their bags, sack up the basketballs and head for home. “It’s going to seem weird,” admitted GU coach Mark Few, the architect of the best season in school history and the mastermind of the Bulldogs’ two previous tournament runs. “I’m not going to have anything to do tomorrow at 3 o’clock.” Few can blame his team’s frigid shooting for that. The Zags suffered through a pair of extended field-goal droughts, one in each half, and shot a season-low 26.8 percent against the Cowboys (22-8), who will move on to face third-seeded Arizona in Saturday’s second round. The Bulldogs, who had shot at least 40 percent in every game leading up to the tournament, made only 19 of 71 shots and misfired on 19 of their 26 3-point attempts. And nearly everyone on the roster had a ice-cold hand in putting up such mind-numbing numbers. Senior All-America point guard Dan Dickau finished with a game-high 26 points, but made only 7 of 24 baskets and was 4 for 14 from 3-point range. Shooting guard Blake Stepp was a pathetic 1 for 13 from the field, and front-liners Cory Violette and Zach Gourde were a combined 7 for 21, with most of their misses coming from inside of 5 feet. “Not even in my wildest dreams could I image Dan Dickau going 7 for 24,” said befuddled assistant coach Bill Grier. “It’s really sad to have such a great year and have it end like this.” Shooting has been something GU fans have, perhaps, taken for granted in recent years, with their Bulldogs finishing among the nation’s leaders in field-goal percentage. But those 450-plus who were in attendance at Thursday’s game learned a painful lesson on how tough the game can be when shots aren’t falling. “I don’t know the last time we ever shot like that,” Few said. “As a coach you know something like this might rear its ugly head, but you’re always hoping it won’t happen in a game like this.” Wyoming, the regular-season champion of the Mountain West Conference, contributed to GU’s shooting shortcomings by playing aggressively, physically and intelligently on the defensive end. The Cowboys knew who to guard and how to guard them. They bumped off nearly every cutter, shadowed Dickau and Stepp on the perimeter and leaned unmercifully on Violette, Gourde and Ronny Turiaf inside. And in the end, they made the key shots Gonzaga couldn’t. The Cowboys shot 50 percent (26 of 52) from the field and finished with five players in double figures. Junior center Uche Nsonwu-Amadi scored a team-high 14 points and junior forward Marcus Bailey added 11. Senior forward Josh Davis, who toyed with the idea of attending GU coming out of Salem (Ore.) Academy, chipped in 11 points, pulled down 14 rebounds and had five of Wyoming’s 12 blocked shots. “There were people debating whether we deserved to be in this,” Cowboys coach Steve McClain said. “And I think we proved we deserve to be in the same arena with Gonzaga and teams like them.” “I don’t think this was a fluke,” added Bailey. “We played a tough schedule this year and we’ve played pretty good basketball all year. We expected to win this game and we came out and did all the things the coaches wanted us to do.” GU scratched out a 36-32 halftime lead, despite missing 10 straight shots during one 6-minute stretch and shooting just 31.4 percent prior to intermission. The Bulldogs scored four points in the final 2 seconds of the half when Alex Hernandez hit a pair of free throws and Jay Sherrell dropped in a short baseline jumper after Wyoming turned the ball over on an in-bounds line violation. The Bulldogs jumped out to a 43-38 lead early in the second half, but then slipped into another lengthy offensive lull, missing 11 consecutive field-goal tries in falling behind 49-45. Violette, who finished with 14 points and 10 rebounds, ended the second drought by scoring back-to-back buckets on putbacks. His second put the Zags up 50-49 with 8:57 left to play. But it also marked the last GU basket anyone other than Dickau would get until the final second when Turiaf dropped in an uncontested buzzer-beater. Dickau scored 12 of GU’s final 14 points, but didn’t do much to get anyone else involved. “I didn’t want to walk off that floor, no matter what point it was in the tournament, knowing I didn’t give it everything I had,” Dickau said. “That’s more shots than I normally take. Some 3s I normally hit just didn’t drop.” Neither did a couple of tough shots he launched on well-defended drives down the lane - one of which was blocked by Davis and turned into a fast-break opportunity that resulted in a pair of Bailey free throws and put Wyoming up 67-62 with just 56 seconds left. “We forced a couple of things on drives down the stretch,” Few admitted. “But I think that was mainly out of frustration, because the jump shots weren’t going down.” Wyoming 73, Gonzaga 66 Wyoming (22-8) - Davis 3-7 5-5 11, Bailey 5-12 3-6 13, Nsonwu-Amadi 6-12 2-5 14, Richardson 3-5 2-2 10, Straight 2-6 2-2 6, Mingo 3-3 0-0 6, Udezue 0-0 0-0 0, Rottinghaus 0-0 0-0 0, Corner 3-6 4-4 11, Ries 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 26-52 18-24 73. Gonzaga (29-4) - Reason 0-1 0-0 0, Gourde 2-7 2-2 6, Violette 5-14 3-4 14, Stepp 1-13 2-2 4, Dickau 7-24 8-11 26, Hernandez 0-5 4-4 4, Bankhead 2-3 0-0 6, Sherrell 1-1 0-0 2, Turiaf 1-3 2-4 4. Totals 19-71 21-27 66. Halftime-Gonzaga 36-32. 3-Point Goals-Wyoming 3-10 (Richardson 2-3, Corner 1-4, Bailey 0-1, Straight 0-2), Gonzaga 7-26 (Dickau 4-14, Bankhead 2-3, Violette 1-3, Reason 0-1, Stepp 0-5). Fouled out-Richardson, Violette. Rebounds-Wyoming 42 (Davis 14), Gonzaga 44 (Violette 10). Assists-Wyoming 14 (Straight 7), Gonzaga 11 (Bankhead, Dickau, Stepp 3). Total fouls-Wyoming 22, Gonzaga 20.
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