ESPN called it the story of what went wrong for top-seeded Gonzaga on its Saturday night/Sunday morning SportsCenters.
The better way to look at the game is what went right for Wichita State, which upset Gonzaga 76-70 on Saturday in the NCAA third round at EnergySolutions Arena.
Ninth-seeded WSU (28-8) sealed one of the biggest wins in program history with a seven-minute burst of near perfection on offense. The Shockers added in enough of their signature gritty defense to send the top-ranked Bulldogs (32-3) home earlier than most expected.
“We won because we made shots at the end, and that’s what counted,” WSU senior Carl Hall said. “We just got a team full of fighters.”
WSU takes that fight to an even bigger stage, the Sweet 16 in Los Angeles for the West Regional semifinals on Thursday. The Shockers are two wins away from the Final Four, thanks to a rally that caught the nation’s attention and made ESPN’s Dick Vitale a prophet for picking them over Gonzaga.
The Shockers trailed 58-51 with 6:29 to play, knocked back again after cutting an eight-point deficit to three. Instead of stepping aside, the Shockers ran off a series of highlights that will thrill fans for years on YouTube and DVRs.
WSU scored on its next eight possessions and skipped one only because of missed foul shots. That run produced a 72-67 lead. Four free throws wrapped it up and a turnover with four seconds to play mattered not at all. The cold numbers show the Shockers scored on 10 of their final 12 possessions — including five straight three-pointers — to outscore one of the nation’s best scoring teams 25-12 in the final 6:05.
“They stepped up and made big shot after big shot,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
Memories for the Shockers. A nightmare for the Bulldogs.
Tekele Cotton starting the rally with a corner three over a defender. Cleanthony Early anchoring his toes to the court to avoid a traveling call and passing to Ron Baker, who made a three to cut the lead to 61-60. Hall making a rare 15-foot jumper for a one-point lead. Coach Gregg Marshall gyrating and yelling as the officials called Gonzaga’s David Stockton for a turnover. Baker with another corner three.
"It was pretty indescribable, the feeling when your shot goes in,” Baker said. “It’s something that just sends chills down your spine with how exciting it is.”
Then, the game’s indelible image: Fred VanVleet, with the shot clock running down, loses the ball briefly, regains it and shoots a long three over Stockton. He holds his follow through in the air as the ball goes in the basket, sending the Shockers to the Sweet 16 with a shot as memorable as Mike Jones against Kansas in 1981 or Matt Braeuer against Creighton in 2006.
“It was majestic, and it was forever,” Marshall said.
Worth noting — WSU is the fifth No. 9 seed to advance to the Sweet 16 since 1985, when the field expanded to 64 teams.… The Shockers join Northern Iowa as Missouri Valley Conference schools to defeat a No. 1 seed. UNI knocked off Kansas in 2010.… Gonzaga was the first No. 1 seed to lose in this season’s tournament and the fifth team ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll to lose in the round of 32 since 1985.