The 400 students allowed inside the McCarthey Athletic Center to watch the Gonzaga University men’s basketball team play in the Final Four Saturday tried their best to sound like a packed house, cheering on the team as it narrowly beat UCLA to advance to the final game of the NCAA tournament.
The students signed up online on a first-come, first-served basis to get the coveted wrist bands that allowed them inside the arena where the team has played to empty seats all season. Sophomore Sophia Morey was one of them, lining up outside the arena before the doors opened. “We didn’t miss a home game last year,” she said.
Everyone seemed to be happy to be back inside McCarthey. “I’m pretty excited,” said student Gabe McDonald.
Senior Shane Jacoby, a member of the Kennel Club that cheers on home games, was sporting a mustache in a nod to Drew Timme under his mask. He said he might lead a few cheers during the game. “This is incredible,” he said. “The opportunity to go is going to be phenomenal.”
The crowd of students wore Gonzaga T-shirts and masks, which they kept on while watching the game. The cheer squad and mascot, Spike, came out before the game to rev up a crowd that didn’t need much encouragement to leap to their feet and cheer. Soon after, the thunder of students jumping in the stands echoed through the mostly empty building.
Across campus, other students gathered in smaller watch parties. There were 160 students inside Hemmingson and another 70 in Cataldo Hall, all ready to cheer their team on.
The students behaved as if it were a home game and not one being beamed in on large screens in the middle of the arena. They booed opposing players and cheered for Gonzaga players as if they thought the sound would carry all the way to Indianapolis.
The Zags uncharacteristically lagged most of the first half, but students found their feet and their voice when fan favorite Timme made a slam dunk. Two three-pointers toward the end of the first half that tied the score re-energized the crowd, bringing them screaming to their feet.
The score was a little too close for comfort at half-time, with Gonzaga only ahead by one point, but students were still excited. “It was absolutely awesome,” said Danielle Peretti.
She said it was just good to be back inside the McCarthey Center to cheer for the Zags. “I know they can’t hear us, but it feels like they can,” she said.
Ciara Soza called the game to that point a nail-biter. “It was really nerve-wracking,” she said. “I’m glad we’re in the lead. I guess we’ll see what happens.”
What happened was more anxiety as the score continued to be tight, followed by overtime. In the final minutes, the students led cheers even during the commercials, seeming to will the team to victory. Every three-pointer, stolen ball and smooth play was reason to jump for joy.
But the jumping and screaming really began when player Jalen Suggs sunk a Hail Mary three-point buzzer beater to end the game in the final second. Students flooded the court to celebrate, then took their celebration outside to a planned after party on Foley Field.
“That was amazing,” said Lindsey Anderson, a senior. “I thought we were going into more overtime.”
She said she appreciated getting a chance to attend the watch party. “It’s really nice to be back in the Kennel again one last time,” she said.
Anderson and her friend, Izabel Diaz, said they plan to get tickets for the next watch party on Monday, when the Zags will compete for the national championship.
“It was amazing,” Diaz said. “I was kind of scared in the last few seconds, but we pulled through.”
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