March Madness is about stories like Wichita State, a team that lost four starters off of last year’s squad but still pulled off the biggest upset of the NCAA Tournament so far, bouncing No. 1-seeded Gonzaga Saturday night, 76-70.
If your bracket was not ruined before then, surely the Shockers dismantled it.
“This is incredible for our team,” said freshman guard Ron Baker, who hit four of the Shockers’ season-high 14 3-pointers. “We came together down the stretch and pulled the upset off. This is unimaginable.”
The Shockers (28-8) have advanced to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006 to play the winner of Sunday’s game between La Salle and Ole Miss, while the Bulldogs (32-3) became the first top seed to be eliminated.
The Zags, who some felt did not deserve a No. 1 seed, survived a second round scare against the Southern Jaguars but were unable to overcome the barrage of 3s from the Shockers, whose motto is “play angry.”
“They never quit,” Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said. “You know we got the big lead, Gonzaga makes a great run as a No. 1 team in the country would, and these guys dig down.”
Gonzaga went on a 12-0 run eight minutes into the second half, pushing the Bulldogs to a 49-41 lead with 11:53 left. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Kevin Pangos and Michael Hart started the run, Kelly Olynyk hit a jumper then a pair of free throws, and Pangos capped it with a steal and fast-break layup.
However, Wichita State managed to outscore the Zags 35-21 from there behind Cleanthony Early and Baker’s 16 points apiece.
Shockers’ Tekele Cotton started the string of five straight 3s with 6:05 remaining in the game and cut the Bulldogs lead to four.
But the streak ended with a dagger at the 1:28 mark from freshman guard Fred Van Vleet, who launched a three with just a second left on the shot clock to put the Shockers ahead 70-65.
“I was just disappointed that with 1 second left that we even let them get a 3 off,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That was a mental error on our part.”
The Shockers went 2-for-20 from behind the arc in their 18-point victory over Pitt on Thursday, but managed to shoot 50 percent from behind the arc and 50 percent overall Saturday night.
“They deserve ton of credit,” Few said. “It’s the first time in a while someone made 50 percent on us, and to bang in 14 3s (overall) is pretty amazing.”
Gonzaga, who was led by Olynyk with 26 points, season has come to a disappointing end. They were appearing in their 15th consecutive NCAA but have not made it past the Sweet 16 since 1999.
“I think we just … let our guard down a little bit,” Hart said. “… We kinda lost it there a few possessions and that really hurt us.”
The Shockers will now have almost a week off before they head to Los Angeles for the Round of 16.
“Man, it means a lot,” the Shockers’ Carl Hall said. “It means a lot to this program and our fans deserve this.”