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Paul Turner: Incredible atmosphere for Spokane, Gonzaga glory

GLENDALE, Ariz. – You saw it.

But Nick Russell heard it.

He was one of the thousands of Zags fans making noise. A lot of noise.

“There are no guarantees in life,” said the shirtless senior business major from Bothell moments after Gonzaga defeated South Carolina Saturday here in the University of Phoenix Stadium. He was shouting to be heard, as fellow GU students behind one of the baskets pogoed, danced and generally writhed in paroxysms of pleasure. When they weren’t videoing the euphoric scene with their phones, that is.

“But we were confident.”

Not far away, center Przemek Karnowski’s father, Bonifacy Karnowski, wearing a No. 24 GU jersey, was asked if he realized his image had been broadcast on American TV multiple times, especially after his son was poked in the eye in the first half.

An interpreter didn’t wait to translate. “It’s not his first time.”

Yes, America has met the Zags. And this is just a guess, but I’m betting America likes what it sees.

“One more game!” the delirious students chanted. “One more game!”

See you Monday night, America.

“You don’t expect an easy one at this stage,” said the Rev. Frank Case, GU’s team chaplain.

It wasn’t.

But before the competition in this silver-sided toadstool of a football stadium got truly heated, a few fans might have been stunned by how different an NCAA semifinal is in person, as opposed to being beamed into your living room.

One of Spokane’s biggest days played itself out in a throbbing atmosphere of loud and louder.

Being at the game felt like having extra-large, amplified seashells clapped over your ears. And that background din never truly went away. The roar went on and on.

A crowd of 77,612 can flat make some noise. Of course, not all the fans were rooting for Gonzaga. So the palpable waves of sound emanated from different parts of cavernous arena at different times.

There was no mistaking one thing, though.

You knew you were at a happening.

At halftime, I asked Josiah Lazarek, a senior accounting/finance major at GU to predict how the game would end. He ought to be good at coming up with numbers, right?

(Gonzaga was up by nine at intermission.)

“I think the Zags will win by 10,” he said, confidently.

Oh, well. He got the right team winning. That’s the big thing.

A very big thing.

Jenny Sanchez, a second year GU student from Los Angeles, put it this way. “I had faith and faith is what got us here.”

Well, that and clutch defense.

But even more than surround sound in the stadium, the biggest difference between the in-person and video experience might have been the inescapable realization that what you are seeing is undeniably real and it’s actually happening.

Hearing the call-and-response of one section of Gonzaga fans shouting “Go” and then hearing another section answer “Zags,” well, it’s a trip.

There has been an invasion of Arizona by benevolent forces from the north. It is something to behold. After all, this is playing itself out a long way from Jack and Dan’s.

All over the Phoenix area, you see “The Road Ends Here” signs.

And so it does, Monday.

Another night for Spokane in the national spotlight.

It has been a long time since Expo ’74. But this marvelous basketball team is happening right now, before our wondering eyes.

Can you believe it? Playing for the national championship.

Clearly the players believe it, and maybe that’s all that matters.

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