Survive and advance. Gonzaga worked all season to get the team’s first No. 1 seed in history–and they nearly blew it and threw it all away.
Southern (23-10) nearly became the first No. 16 seed in the history of the NCAA tournament to defeat a No. 1 seed in the West Regional on Thursday, narrowly losing to No. 1 Gonzaga 64-58.
Gonzaga (32-2), a bit rusty from not having played in nearly two weeks and overmatched at times by high-flying Southern’s athletes that Gonzaga had not been accustomed to in the West Coast Conference, was on the ropes for the entire game. They never had a comfortable lead, and they seemed like they were one Southern run away from getting knocked out of the tournament and infamously into the history books.
But Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk, a candidate for player of the year, made timely shots down the stretch despite having four fouls and scored 21 points. Sophomore guard Kevin Pangos made key three pointers down the stretch en route to his 16 points.
When Gonzaga began to pull away, Southern, from the Southwestern Athletic Conference in Louisiana, would block shots, hit a flurry of threes and get back right into the game. Southern’s Derick Beltran scored 21 points and did his best Reggie Miller impression in the process, hitting off-balance threes, sticking his leg out to draw fouls while shooting jump shots,
Southern’s Malcolm Miller, Brandon Moore, and Javan Mitchell never made any of Gonzaga’s players comfortable and intimidated and altered nearly every shot Gonzaga took in the paint.
Gonzaga, though, won ugly and advanced. They got rid of the rust. They are now alert. And they may not face a team as athletic as Southern for at least two more rounds.
The Bulldogs play Wichita State on Saturday for a trip to the Sweet 16, which will be held in Los Angeles, California.