Thursday’s NCAA Tournament games set a high standard for drama. Friday started quietly, before Wichita State contributed its upset of top-seeded Gonzaga.
That hurts for Gonzaga, a one-time Cinderella darling that built its program into a power. A dominant regular season provided the Bulldogs their first No. 1 seed and what appeared to be a path to their first Final Four.
“It’s tough way to end a fabulous season,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
The Shockers changed that script as the scene shifts to Hollywood for the West Regional semfinals and finals.
Gonzaga goes home, answering questions about a season ended too quickly.
“It hurts, but that’s life, I guess,” Gonzaga forward Elias Harris said. “I don’t even know what’s going through my head right now.”
And now, Wichita State will wear white.
Not only did Wichita State take the national headlines in the NCAA Tournament after its 76-70 victory over No. 1 Gonzaga on Saturday night, but now the Shockers will go to the Sweet 16 as the higher-seeded team in its Thursday regional semifinal game.
WSU will take on the winner of Sunday night’s La Salle-Mississippi game being played in Kansas City, Mo. Both the Explorers and Rebels were lower-seeded winners in Friday’s second-round games. Ole Miss upset Wisconsin and La Salle knocked off Kansas State.
WSU will be the home team Thursday at Staples Center. The other semifinal will be Arizona, a No. 6 seed, against the winner of today’s Iowa State-Ohio State game in Dayton, Ohio.
As part of his 2012 contract, he makes $36,000 for each NCAA game the Shockers appear in. He also receives a $60,000 bonus for reaching the Sweet 16.
Thursday’s second-round action at EnergySolutions Arena added to those trends. New Mexico shot 37.5 percent from the field, missing 11 of 14 three-pointers in its 68-62 upset loss to Harvard. Wichita State and Pittsburgh combined to miss 34 of 37 three-pointers. Southern shot 39.1 percent from the field and top-seeded Gonzaga 41.8 percent.
On Thursday, only Arizona and Harvard shot better than 42 percent from the field.
Teams are averaging around 68 points a game this season, continuing a downward trend. Last season’s average of 68.01 was the lowest since 1982 (67.6).
“We can’t shoot for them,” New Mexico coach Steve Alford said. “We have had games like that, several games where we haven’t shot the ball well. That’s obviously a glaring weakness on this basketball team.”
Coaches subscribe to several theories for the declines. Some players are not as skilled as their predecessors. Some blame the three-point shot, zone defenses and the shot clock. Some blame physical defenses that are allowed to bump and push scorers.
“Call the fouls. Call them all,” Kentucky coach John Calipari told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “This shouldn’t be about who wins in the weight room. This is about movement and spacing. But it’s where it’s going.”
One NCAA Tournament loss can wash away four months of victories. Ask Jamie Dixon, Bruce Weber, John Thompson III or Alford. His Lobos are out after grabbing a No. 3 seed and priming their fans for a lengthy stay in the tournament. The editor of a fan-driven Lobo website, for Rivals.com, couldn’t stand the disappointment and posted his resignation, an open letter later removed from the site.
“You never like ending your season,” Alford said. “It doesn’t sit well. For whatever reason, we just didn’t play particularly well.”