LOS ANGELES – You won’t find Gonzaga near the top of any list breaking down all-time Sweet 16 appearances by school.
Despite the recent success, GU is still a few dozen cameos shy of the sport’s blue bloods – many of whom have played in the Sweet 16 more times than the Bulldogs have in the NCAA Tournament’s opening round.
Kentucky’s been there 43 times; North Carolina and UCLA have both done it 33; Kansas has 31 appearances; Duke another 30 and quite a ways down the list … Gonzaga with eight.
But the Zags are catching up.
When GU outlasted Ohio State 90-84 in the Round of 32 last Saturday in Boise, it secured its fourth Sweet 16 berth in four years. That’s a feat nobody else in the country has accomplished over this four-year span – Duke being the next closest with three.
As Gonzaga’s ninth Sweet 16 game nears, we take a look back at the previous eight.
Gonzaga 73, Florida 72
1999 West Regional in Phoenix: The Sweet 16 would become a familiar destination for Gonzaga and the ’99 Bulldogs were the pioneers. They fended off Minnesota and Stanford to become the first GU team to make the Sweet 16 … and they didn’t stop there. Big man Casey Calvary delivered one of the program’s indelible NCAA Tournament moments when he jumped up and over a pair of Florida defenders to tip in Quentin Hall’s miss with 4 seconds left. Zags win by one in an instant tourney classic.
Purdue 75, Gonzaga 66
2000 West Regional in Albuquerque, New Mexico: The 2000 team did plenty to validate the Zags’ staying power in the NCAA Tournament, but power is precisely what GU lacked when it met Purdue in Albuquerque. The Bulldogs didn’t have the length or strength to match their opponent and it was most evident on the glass. The Boilermakers were 44-33 winners in the rebounding column, turning 20 offensive boards into 18 second-chance points. Calvary paced Gonzaga with 20 points and six rebounds, but the Bulldogs would have needed five of him to stave off the big, physical Boilermakers.
Michigan State 77, Gonzaga 62
2001 South Regional in Atlanta: The opponent was different, but the mission was the same: Shut down another group of Big Ten towers, advance to the Elite Eight. The concept was simple, executing it wasn’t. Tom Izzo had Michigan State loaded up with tough big men and gritty guards – Zach Randolph and Jason Richardson starred for the Spartans – and for the second year in a row, the Bulldogs conceded the rebounding column in a big way, 49-29. The good news? After a 15-point loss at the Georgia Dome, Gonzaga’s period of futility against the Big Ten finally ran its course.
UCLA 73, Gonzaga 71
2006 Oakland Regional in Oakland, California: A 17-point lead. A late UCLA flurry. An unforgettable image of Gonzaga’s All-American forward pouring his emotions onto the Oakland Arena floor. When Gonzaga returned to the Sweet 16 following a four-year hiatus, the Bulldogs seemed to have all the pieces necessary for a major breakthrough. There was experience, depth and a bona fide star. Adam Morrison fueled Gonzaga most of the way, scoring 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, but after conceding 29 points in the first half, the Bulldogs only managed to score that many in the second. UCLA went on an 11-0 run in the final 3:12; surely, you’re familiar with the rest.
North Carolina 98, Gonzaga 77
2009 South Regional in Memphis, Tennessee: High-powered North Carolina came to Memphis with a roster of household names – Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Danny Green to name a few – and the Tar Heels shot 53 percent en route to a blowout win at the FedEx Forum. The Bulldogs weren’t shabby on the offensive end, shooting better than 85 percent from the field through the first few minutes, and had 42 points in the first half. GU’s percentages eventually leveled out and UNC’s didn’t. Hansbrough helped push the Heels through to the Elite Eight – he led the game with 24 points – and eventually to the 2009 national championship.
Gonzaga 74, UCLA 62
2015 South Regional in Seattle: With four losses in their previous four Sweet 16 appearances, the Zags had gone 16 years without a return to the Elite Eight when a group led by veteran guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. finally got GU back over the hump. Pangos and Bell Jr. weren’t the Zags’ difference-makers against UCLA, though. Junior Przemek Karnowski scored 18 points on only 11 attempts and grabbed nine rebounds for Gonzaga, which had traditionally been outworked on the glass in these Sweet 16 games. Not this time. There was a 50-39 disparity in rebounds and Kyle Wiltjer pulled down 10 more for GU, despite a subpar game scoring. The Zags, once again, were Elite.
Syracuse 63, Gonzaga 60
2016 Midwest Regional in Chicago: After cruising by Seton Hall 68-52 and bludgeoning Utah 82-59, Gonzaga moved on to Chicago for a Sweet 16 test against Syracuse. The Orange were a surprise inclusion on Selection Sunday, but Jim Boeheim’s club didn’t take long to prove it belonged in the field, surging past Dayton and Middle Tennessee in the first two rounds. Then Syracuse strong-armed Gonzaga, using its renowned 2-3 zone to force the Bulldogs into 17 turnovers. The Orange won despite shooting 36 percent from the field; GU left the Windy City lamenting the 14 points Syracuse scored off turnovers and the 16 that came from second-chance points.
Gonzaga 61, West Virginia 58
2017 West Regional in San Jose, California: All tournament, West Virginia’s trapping defense had sent opponents into panic mode and had the Mountaineers found a way to get a few more shots to fall, it could have been Gonzaga’s Kryptonite, too. WVU turned GU over 16 times throughout the course of the game, allowing the Mountaineers to take 60 shots and hold the Zags to just 44. Turns out, Gonzaga’s D might have been even a hair better. The Bulldogs forced Bob Huggins’ club to shoot a miserable 16 of 60 from the field and three Zags – Karnowkski, Johnathan Williams and Jordan Mathews – contributed 13 points apiece, leading GU to its third Elite Eight. It only got better from there.
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