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Gonzaga fans power through rain in downtown Indianapolis to celebrate Final Four appearance

UPDATED: Wed., March 31, 2021

Left to right, Gonzaga students Jeremy Thellman, Cade Sanders, Rylie Clark and Sarah Smith pose for a photo Tuesday before going into the Lucas Oil Stadium to watch the Zags play USC in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight in Indianapolis.  (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
Left to right, Gonzaga students Jeremy Thellman, Cade Sanders, Rylie Clark and Sarah Smith pose for a photo Tuesday before going into the Lucas Oil Stadium to watch the Zags play USC in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight in Indianapolis. (COLIN MULVANY/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

INDIANAPOLIS – As blue and red confetti showered Gonzaga inside a cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium on Tuesday, the Bulldogs’ loyalists experienced a deluge of their own.

Shortly after top-seeded Gonzaga handled No. 6 seed USC 85-66 to punch its ticket the Final Four, fans were met with a rainstorm in downtown Indianapolis.

Some ran to their hotels and ride-share services, taking cover with umbrellas and hoodies.

Others soaked in the rare experience.

In a “Bubbleville” edition of the NCAA Tournament that allows just 22% fan capacity, some of Gonzaga’s most staunch fans made the trek to Indiana to watch the favored Bulldogs potentially win the program’s first national title.

Gonzaga has dispatched Norfolk State, Oklahoma, Creighton and USC in Indiana’s capital city by an average of 24 points to earn an appearance in the Spokane school’s second national semifinal run.The Bulldogs (30-0) will face their second Final Four in four years on Saturday.

The Bulldogs (30-0) will face UCLA (22-9) at 5:34 p.m. PT on Saturday in the Zags’ second Final Four appearance in four years.

Geoff Stookey, a longtime Gonzaga fan who lives in South Bend, Indiana, remembers the first in 2017, a sunny, fan-filled affair in Phoenix, Arizona.

Gonzaga’s second Final Four berth was celebrated in a pandemic and in soggy conditions.

Stookey and dozens of other rain-soaked Zags were equally thrilled, though.

“We were wearing shorts, there were all the fans, it was a lot different (in Arizona),” said Stookey, a Notre Dame employee who grew up in Spokane. “But Gonzaga got to play here, in the basketball mecca of Indiana, and get to the Final Four.”

Stookey and a band of hardcore Gonzaga fans were prominent figures at Bulldogs games in past years, often wearing blue wigs and capes.

At this NCAA Tournament, Stookey passed the fandom torch to his 10-year-old son, Jaeden, who proudly donned the Kennel-friendly costume.

“After the NCAA Tournament was canceled last season, I’m glad it’s happening here,” Stookey said. “(Indianapolis and the NCAA) have done a nice job with it.”

Much like Gonzaga’s 2017 Elite Eight appearance, in which the Bulldogs blew out Xavier 83-59 in San Jose, California, to get to the Final Four, the Bulldogs swiftly jumped out to a double-digit lead against the Trojans on Tuesday.

Gonzaga fans were already making their way toward the exits in the final minutes, but a traveling group of Gonzaga students weren’t in a hurry after their long excursion.

Jeremy Thellman, Cade Sanders, Rylie Clark and Sarah Smith made the nearly 2,000-mile drive from Spokane to Indianapolis.

It was an impromptu decision.

During halftime of Gonzaga’s 83-65 Sweet 16 win over Creighton, the group left, making a cross-country trip in an attempt to witness history.

It took roughly 30 hours, including stops.

“We just went for it,” Thellman said.

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