SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The No. 1 got taken down by a bunch of 3s.
Gonzaga is out of the NCAA tournament thanks to Wichita State, a No. 9 seed that made five straight shots from behind the arc Saturday for a 76-70 victory that sent the West Region’s top seed — and the nation’s No. 1 team during the regular season — back home.
“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 feeling is unimaginable.”
Now Wichita State doesn’t have to try and emulate fellow mid-major Gonzaga any more.
The Shockers (28-6) one-upped the Zags (32-3) on the NCAA tournament stage, and advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time since 2006. They are headed to Los Angeles to face the winner of Sunday’s game between La Salle and Ole Miss.
Gonzaga became the first top seed to be eliminated, giving all the Zags’ doubters an I-told-you-so moment. The Zags survived a scare in the second round against Southern but couldn’t hold up against a Shockers team whose motto is “play angry.”
Call it the Marshall plan, by 50-year-old Shockers coach Gregg Marshall.
He pulled his team aside after Gonzaga had made its big second-half run to take an eight-point lead.
“You know what I asked them? On Oct. 15, down eight with eight minutes to go, would you take it for the right to go to Los Angeles in the Sweet 16?” Marshall asked. “And they did it from there.”
Cleanthony Early and Baker scored 16 points apiece, freshman Fred VanVleet added 13, Carl Hall had 10 and Tekele Cotton eight.
Baker called it the epitome of team.
While Baker hasn’t been this deep in the tournament before, the Shockers are no stranger to the NCAAs, with Saturday’s win evening their record at 10-10. They earned a trip to the Final Four in 1965, the regional finals three times and most recently made it to the Round of 16 in 2006 before losing to George Mason.
Marshall also led Winthrop to seven NCAA tournament appearances during his nine seasons there.
Still, Wichita State hadn’t fared so well against top-ranked teams. The last time they played one, in 1967, they lost by 34. That was UCLA, a team that went on to win its fourth of 10 titles during the Wooden era.
While Gonzaga held the top spot in the AP Top 25 over the final weeks of the season, skeptics thought of the Bulldogs as a soft No. 1 seed that benefited from a relatively easy schedule in the West Coast Conference while other top contenders were getting banged around in the power conferences.
That’s not to say the Bulldogs didn’t fight, with Kelly Olynyk scoring 26 points to lead Gonzaga, and Kevin Pangos adding 19.
Gonzaga trailed by as many as 13 in the first half, was down 36-31 at the break, but came on strong early in the second half.
Wichita State was not intimidated.
“They never quit,” 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.”
Shockers, for sure.
They showed their grit after Gonzaga’s 12-0 run gave the Bulldogs a 49-41 lead with 11:53 left. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Kevin Pangos and Michael Hart started it, Olynyk hit a jumper then a pair of free throws, and Pangos capped it with a steal and fast-break layup.
But Wichita State outscored the Zags 35-21 from there.
The string of five straight 3s began when Tekele Cotton spotted up with 6:05 remaining and hit a shot that cut Wichita State’s seven-point deficit to four.
It ended at the 1:28 mark when VanVleet, dribbling the ball between his legs, nearly lost it, but gathered himself and threw one up with 1 second left on the shot clock. It went in, the Shockers were ahead 70-65 and the rest of the game was a free-throw-shooting contest.
“I was just disappointed that with 1 second left that we even let him get a 3 off,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That was a mental error on our part.”
The Shockers, who made just 2 of 20 3-pointers in their 18-point win over Pitt on Thursday, shot 50 percent from beyond the arc and 50 percent overall.
“They deserve a 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.”
It was another sudden end to an amazing ride for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs were playing in their 15th straight NCAA tournament but have not advanced past the Round of 16 since 1999.
“I think we just … let our guard down a little bit,” Hart said. “That was key. We defended so well at start of the second half, then we just lost some guys. You can’t do that when guys get it going. You gotta get a hand up and stay close to your assignments. We kinda lost it there a few possessions and that really hurt us.”
While the Zags left disappointed, the Shockers stayed fairly low key in victory.
At one point, Early and teammate Chadrack Lufile jumped up and body slammed each other and the Shockers huddled at midcourt for a long team hug. But largely, Wichita State acted like a team that’s been there before.
“We play together, we stick to our goals, we’re good teammates,” Baker said. He hardly looked fazed.
The game was physical as expected, with Olynyk getting a forearm across his neck in the first half but continuing to go hard at the basket.
Gonzaga’s 39-30 rebounding edge couldn’t make up for 36 percent shooting.
Six different Wichita State players hit 3s in the opening 20 minutes as the Shockers made 7 of 15 from beyond the arc in the first half.
They finished 14 of 28 overall.
“Man it means a lot,” Shockers senior forward Carl Hall said. “It means a lot to this program and our fans deserve this.”
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