Orleans Arena was basically empty except for a handful of Saint Mary’s fans looking on in almost disbelief as their Gaels began to cut down the nets. Beating the nation’s top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs, 60-47, for the West Coast Conference Tournament championship is this March’s current king of big basketball upsets.
And Katherine Morgan might have been the last Bulldog fan in the building. She was sitting in her dream seat for the game, literally in the front row behind the basket on the Gonzaga bench side of the court.
The almost magical location wasn’t where she was supposed to be sitting. No, her real seat was up a whole lot higher and even had an obstructed view. Believe it or not, her courtside seats were courtesy of a BYU fan who had long left Las Vegas after the Cougars’ quarterfinals loss to San Diego.
The former president and CEO of the Greater Spokane Valley Chamber – and current senior vice president at Bank of America – simply couldn’t bring herself to leave.
She watched as the confetti still dropped and Queen’s “We are the Champions” played on the always-too-loud arena sound system. It wasn’t supposed to go this way.
Or, then again, maybe it was.
The seemingly always exuberant Morgan took it all in and in one of the rare moments when she wasn’t wearing her trademark smile, she wondered out loud if her favorite team’s loss wasn’t actually a moment to solidify the Dogs’ divine decree.
“It hurts, but in the long run it might be exactly what we need,” she said as she sat alone in the row that had earlier been so near the center of attention for the nationally televised game. “It’s been such a tough day for both of our teams, but this is exactly the sort of thing that has helped take us to unimagined levels in the past.
“Our teams, and really all of the Zag Nation, know how to bond and elevate when there are setbacks like this … just like what happened a few years ago when we lost to BYU.”
There’s some truth to her words.
The self-proclaimed “Spokane Girl” lives and dies with her beloved Zags. The highest highs and the lowest lows. And one of those lows was just a few years ago.
Think back to 2017. The Zags were No. 1 in the nation and the last undefeated team in all of college basketball. A shocking loss to BYU at The Kennel on Senior Day was the last thing anyone expected.
A little more than a month after that unexpected setback, Gonzaga made its first Final Four and played for the national championship against North Carolina. It was surreal for a team that had come so close but never made it to the last week of games.
This year, Morgan said, is her Zags’ year of destiny. This year, she’s positive the Bulldogs will win their last game.
Odds were that Gonzaga would win on Tuesday against Saint Mary’s. In a town where the house always wins, Gonzaga’s home away from home in Las Vegas almost assured a win by the heavy favorites from Spokane.
It was such a sure thing that the WCC literally didn’t make shirts to sell after the game if Saint Mary’s actually won. There were championship shirts for the team and coaches. And that was it.
As the Gaels celebrated on the court, the arena’s announcer said that Saint Mary’s version of the championship shirts were currently being produced and would be available for fans at 11 p.m. in the souvenir stands.
You can’t totally blame the WCC for the unexpected shirt order.
Orleans Arena was essentially the southern outpost of The Kennel for the game. At competing team rallies earlier in the afternoon, the Gaels’ rally had fewer than a hundred people, while the Gonzaga rally rocked it closer to 1,500.
Officially, Gonzaga had 3,000 of the arena’s 7,500 tickets to sell for the championship game. There were another 400 tickets set aside for GU students.
School officials estimated that more than 700 students made the trip, with the WCC Tournament recently becoming the ultimate senior trip for graduating Zags. Walking along Las Vegas’ famous Strip, you were more likely to run into someone wearing a Gonzaga shirt than you were a showgirl asking if you would like to take a photo.
Over the past few days, a popular question at hotel concierge desks around town was how to get tickets to the Gonzaga game. The answer was simple: You can’t. No one was sure just how many Zags fans were in town, but the smart money told you there were way more than there were actual seats at Orleans Arena.
As Dick Vitale began the television broadcast for ESPN, seeing was believing and your eyes told you that the arena was probably close to 90 percent filled with those wearing Gonzaga colors.
That included Morgan, the last Zag still in the room.
“We’re going to do it,” she said. “We’re going to win it all. Just you wait and see.”
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