SHOCKERS DO IT — Wichita State, not Gonzaga, is going to the Sweet 16, as the Shockers put together a sizzling offensive finish, scoring baskets on eight straight possessions down the stretch, to send the Zags packing, 76-70.
GOING TO THE WIRE — Three straight threes by Wichita State, and five straight successful offensive trips, have pulled the Shockers into a 62-61 lead with 3:17 left. Kevin Pangos has kept the Zags in it with threes, while it’s become a mighty struggle for Gonzaga to get anything close to the hoop. Elias Harris will be shooting two free throws out of the last TV timeout.
SHOCKERS STILL TICKING — Ron Baker hit a crucial three from the corner after Gonzaga’s 49-41 lead, and Wichita State got back within four at 49-45. Both teams have been fighting to score in what’s materialized as a grinder (no surprise there). And still no sign of Gary Bell Jr., who’s apparently out the rest of the day. It’s Gonzaga, 54-49, with 7:55 left and Kelly Olynyk shooting a one-and-one out of the break.
SEARING RUN BY THE ZAGS — With Gary Bell Jr. on the sideline nursing an injury, Gonzaga has surged back into the lead with a 12-0 run at the 11:53 mark, pulling it into a 49-41 lead. Kevin Pangos has taken over on the perimeter in Bell’s absence, driving and dishing, and Kyle Dranginis has replaced Bell. Mike Hart has come up huge in this game for Gonzaga, nailing two threes, including one from the left wing that gave the Zags a 43-41 lead with 13:32 left. What happens in the next 4-5 minutes is going to be critical.
HEATING UP IN ENERGY SOLUTIONS ARENA — After trailing 36-31 at half, Gonzaga has crawled back within a point at 38-37 with 15:09 left on Kelly Olynyk’s lunging roll to the basket. Wichita State is getting in some big-time foul problems; it has 17 in the game already, six in the half, and Gonzaga figures to shoot a lot of free throws. Zags are shooting only 10 of 34 (29.4 percent), while Wichita State has cooled a bit to 42.9 percent on 15 of 35. Three Shocker “bigs” have three fouls. Gary Bell Jr. left the game a couple of minutes into the half and was worked on by the Gonzaga trainer, and he’s not returning for play after the timeout.
HALFTIME — Wichita State 36, Gonzaga 31. Zags came back from a 13-point deficit, got to within three on Kelly Olynyk’s 16-foot baseline jumper with 13 seconds left, then gave up Jake White’s tip-in at the buzzer.
ZAGS TRYING TO HANG TOUGH — After Wichita State’s 23-12 lead, Gonzaga has scrapped back to within 29-22 at the 3:39 timeout. Two Shockers, leading scorer Cleanthony Early and center Ehimen Orukpe, have two fouls. Orukpe incurred his on what was a five-point play for the Zags. Kevin Pangos broke a seven-minute, 32-second GU drought without a field goal, hitting a three on top, and Olynyk, as he ran downcourt, pointed to the official, signaling he’d been hit above the shoulders. Indeed, the officials checked the courtside monitor and levied a flagrant foul against Orupke, and Olynyk hit both free throws.
BIG RUN BY SHOCKERS — After Elias Harris gave Gonzaga its only lead at 12-10, Wichita State has embarked on a 13-0 run to take a 23-12 lead. It’s been marked by threes from Malcolm Armstead and Tekele Cotton, with a couple of hoops from forward Cleanthony Early. It’s obvious Gonzaga is going to struggle to score; the Zags are just 4 of 18 at this TV timeout with 7:18 left. They’re doing a great job getting offensive rebounds but haven’t converted and have seven turnovers.
WHAT’S THIS, A HART 3? Mike Hart, one of the most valuable Zags, but a guy who seemingly won’t shoot the ball, just did, draining a three from the left wing at 12:48 to tie the game at 10. Gonzaga isn’t shooting well, but is killing the Shockers in the rebound battle, 13-5, with seven offensive boards already. Zags are shooting 4 of 14, Wichita State 4 of 11.
15:40 LEFT IN FIRST HALF — It’s 5-5, the Shockers having scored the first five points of the game and keeping the Zags off the scoreboard until 16:38, when Kelly Olynyk hit a 16-foot jumper. On Wich State’s next possession, the Shockers turned it over and Mike Hart fed Pangos, who drove for a three-point play to tie it. Elias Harris is not off to a good start (again), missing a seven-foot jump-hook badly to start, then traveling on Gonzaga’s second possession.
So we’re sitting here at courtside at the Salt Lake City NCAA subregional, and what happened to all the buzzer-beaters in the NCAA tournament? So far, it’s been a pretty ho-hum day in the round-of-32, with Michigan and Michigan State having blown out Virginia Commonwealth and Memphis, respectively, and Louisville and Arizona well on their way to big games.
Arizona has way too much for a Harvard team that played impeccably Thursday night in beating No. 3 seed New Mexico. Solomon Hill is going off, Mark Lyons is having a good game at the point, and whether the Crimson have played man or zone defense, they’re getting schooled (so to speak). Harvard is 7 of 28 from the field at half (losing 40-22), while ‘Zona is shooting 58 percent. Hill and Lyons (23 points combined) have outscored Harvard.
Don’t expect the nightcap to continue the trend. I expect Gonzaga to perform better than it did Thursday in its escape against Southern, when it ran into a 16 seed with some good pieces, and 10 days after the Zags had last played. But Wichita State is a solid, hard-nosed club that clearly will test Gonzaga’s will. It has won 27 games playing in a decent conference, the Missouri Valley, and flat embarrassed a physical Pitt team Thursday, 73-55.
From what I saw of the Wichita State-Pitt game, the Shockers aren’t anybody’s idea of a smooth-flowing offensive team, and they shoot only 33 percent from deep. But they rebound well (No. 7 nationally in board margin) and defend. So I expect a key factor to be whether Gonzaga’s improved defense can come to the fore and keep Wichita State’s offense under wraps.
Gonzaga (32-2) carries in a 15-game winning streak, dating all the way back to the Butler loss more than two months ago. Here are the operative numbers for the Zags during that streak: They’ve shot .487 and allowed only.344 shooting by opponents. Match those two numbers today, and they’d be in terrific shape to move on to the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles next week against the winner of Sunday’s Ole Miss-LaSalle game.