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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Sent Packing Glass slipper on the other foot as Gonzaga bounced Bulldogs dazed after getting floored by underdog Nevada in second round

It wasn’t until the game clock ticked under a minute that the reality of the moment seemed to finally hit home. The Gonzaga Bulldogs were about to do something they hadn’t done in 90 days. Lose. Which made the bewildered late-game expressions that started breaking out on the faces of the Zags understandable. “I was shocked. I couldn’t believe it was happening,” senior guard Tony Skinner admitted just moments after the third-ranked and second-seeded Bulldogs had been stunned by 10th-seeded Nevada, 91-72, in the second round of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. “I don’t know how to describe it,” added redshirt freshman forward Sean Mallon. “It’s just a terrible feeling.” And one the Bulldogs will probably carry with them for some time after watching their school-record winning streak snapped at 21 by an underdog Wolf Pack team that was simply better on this particular day. Bolstered by GU’s lack of aggression and early foul problems, the Western Athletic Conference champions (25-8) scooted to a 20-point lead less than 15 minutes into the game and then answered every second-half challenge the Bulldogs (28-3) threw at them. All five of coach Trent Johnson’s starters scored in double figures, and the Wolf Pack beat the beefier Zags to nearly every loose ball and every important rebound in earning the school’s first berth in the NCAA’s Sweet 16. Junior forward Kevinn Pinkney scored a game-high 20 points and freshman center Nick Fazekas posted a 16-point, 10-rebound double-double - his seventh of the season - as Nevada earned a spot in Friday’s third round of the St. Louis regional against today’s Georgia Tech-Boston College winner. “We just got beat tonight,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Our lack of aggressiveness really hurt us. They were beating us to loose balls, and they were beating us on the glass. Today was just about Nevada. They did everything right, made the plays when they had to and stuck with it even when we made some runs.” After cutting Nevada’s huge first-half lead to 47-32 at intermission, the Bulldogs clawed their way back into the game with an 8-2 run to open the second half. And they were within 58-50 when Nevada point guard Todd Okeson, who finished with 19 points and seven assists, threw up a shot on a wild baseline drive that GU’s Erroll Knight partially blocked - only to have the ball fall through the basket. “I knew it wasn’t our night when that happened,” Few said. And Okeson backed up his bit of good fortune on UN’s next possession by running off a staggered double screen on the right wing and nailing a 3-pointer that ignited an 11-4 run and put the Wolf Pack up 71-56 with just 5:54 left in the game. “They were making everything,” the Bulldogs’ Erroll Knight said of Nevada, which shot 46.9 percent (30-64) from the field and made eight of its 17 3-point tries. “They had a lot of momentum, and we were just trying to get some for ourselves. But it seemed like we could never get over the edge.” It didn’t help that the Zags started poorly once again, thanks, in part, to the prolonged absences of leading scorer Ronny Turiaf and Knight, who each picked up two early fouls and watched all but 4 minutes of the first half from the bench. Turiaf, a gifted 6-foot-10 junior forward who came in averaging 15.6 points and 6.4 rebounds, didn’t have a shot attempt, free-throw try or rebound in the opening 20 minutes. And the 13 points and five rebounds he put up after intermission weren’t nearly enough to erase GU’s early deficit - especially with senior point guard Blake Stepp suffering through another horrible shooting performance. Stepp, who made only 2 of 11 basket tries in Thursday’s 76-49 first-round win over Valparaiso, finished 3 for 18 from the field against the Wolf Pack and made just one of his 12 3-point attempts. In addition, senior center Cory Violette, despite getting a bunch of touches deep in the low post and posting a 16-point, 11-rebound double-double, finished on only eight of his 21 shots and attempted only two free throws. Stepp, who was guarded most of the game by Nevada’s Garry Hill-Thomas, a 6-4 senior, said he had enough good looks but couldn’t get anything to fall. “I wouldn’t even say it’s the best defense I’ve seen all year,” said Stepp, who was a paltry 8 for 37 from the field in the three games he played in the Seattle SuperSonics’ home venue this this year. “I guess KeyArena’s just not my place. Hopefully, if I make it to the next level, they’ll stick me on the bench when we come here, because I don’t think (my shots) are ever going to go in.” “All respect due to Gonzaga and Coach Few and Blake Stepp, but these guys that play for me are pretty good players,” said Johnson, who is in his fifth season as the Wolf Pack’s head coach. “Garry’s been guarding a lot of good players in the WAC Conference. Blake’s probably one of the top two or three guys he’s guarded this year.” Nevada did much of its first-half offensive damage from the free-throw line, where it made 15 of 19 foul shots. Gonzaga was whistled for 15 fouls in the opening period, while the Wolf Pack committed only eight. “When you start with a deficit like we had, you don’t have to be perfect,” Few said. “But you do have to be pretty darn solid. We got it down to eight on several occasions and even had some chances to get closer.” “But they just kept making huge shots, making big plays, getting to loose balls and getting rebonds,” added Mallon, who had nine points and five rebounds as Turiaf’s backup. “It was one of those things. Every time we started to come back and were able to do some things, they made a big play and stopped our momentum. “It seemed strange out there.” And in the postgame locker room, as well, as the Bulldogs attempted to sort out their feelings following a premature close to what otherwise was a most magical season. “I don’t know if I can put it in words,” said Kyle Bankhead, who, along with fellow seniors Stepp, Violette, Skinner and Richard Fox, played his final game as a Bulldog. “I’m just thinking about that I’m not going to be out there ever again. I wish I knew the words to capture how I feel right now.” “I hasn’t really sunk in yet,” added Skinner. “We had so much more we wanted to accomplish. “It’ll probably set in tomorrow, or maybe the next day, when we’re supposed to have practice and their won’t be any.”