The excitement was palpable Saturday afternoon when Gonzaga took on Xavier. Maybe this is it, everyone thought. Maybe this is the year the Zags make it to the Final Four.
The optimism of fans was rewarded and Troy Haacky, who sipped a beer and ate popcorn at the Garland Theater before tip off, confidently predicted the Zags would win it by 20 points. They won by 24.
It was the third time Haacky had attended a free watch party at the theater. “The energy of the crowd is electrifying,” he said. “It’s contagious.”
Longtime fan Ken Degenstein was also optimistic before the game began. “I think they’ll win,” he said. “They’ve got a good chance.”
The atmosphere inside the theater was indeed contagious, where people watched the game with hundreds of their closest friends. They groaned with every lost ball and missed shot and cheered with every stolen ball. A three-point shot was enough to make everyone cheer wildly.
Across town at the 24 Taps sports bar, there wasn’t an empty seat inside or outside on the patio. Josh Brunner was feeling confident at half time.
“We’re tired of hearing about people doubting them all the time,” he said. “They‘re playing really good. They need to keep it going and not let off the gas.”
People clapped and cheered throughout the second half. With five minutes left in the game and Gonzaga up by 20 points, some felt confident that the game was in the bag, while others cautioned against taking everything for granted.
As the final seconds ticked away, the cheers were so loud they could be heard down the block.
“This is huge for Spokane,” said Robert Andresen, who got his MBA at Gonzaga in 2014. “To see them finally break that glass ceiling is excellent. I think everyone was skeptical that they could break that Elite Eight curse.”
The curse, if there was one, is broken.
“It’s going to be a celebration tonight,” Andresen said.
Meanwhile, Brunner has some planning to do. He made a bet with his family: if the Zags advanced to the Final Four, he would get a Gonzaga tattoo.
But he’s not going to get that tattoo yet. He’s going to wait, just in case Gonzaga wins the whole thing and he needs to put a championship year under that Zags logo.
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