Mid-major Gonzaga, the small Jesuit school and top-ranked team in the country and No. 1 seed in the West, was attempting to become the first mid-major team in the modern era to win the national title this year.
But on Saturday, No. 9 Wichita State refused to play the role assigned to them in Gonzaga’s march to the Final Four. Instead, the Shockers decided they were going to be the mid-major school that would star in the script, defeating the Bulldogs 76-70 in a West Regional shocker.
Next stop for Wichita State: Hollywood.
The Shockers will play the winner of Ole Miss and La Salle next Thursday in Los Angeles, California in one Sweet 16 battle. No. 6 Arizona will play the winner of Ohio State and Iowa State in the other Sweet 16 game.
Wichita State made seven straight three pointers in the second half, raining in jumpers to take back the lead from Gonzaga after Gonzaga took a 43-41 lead at the 11:17 mark in the second half when Mike Hart, who is reluctant to shoot, put Gonzaga up two with a three from the corner. Gonzaga stretched the lead to 58-51, and then Wichita State bombed away from behind the three point line.
Tekele Cotton. Splash. Cleanthony Early. Swish. Ron Baker. Splash. Ron Baker. Swish. Fred Van Vleet. Nothing but net.
Amid the flurry of threes, Gonzaga made mental errors that cost them the game, fouling Wichita State and sending them to the line and committing an inbounds violation to give Wichita State the ball after the Shockers took 64-63 lead. Baker promptly drained a three on the ensuing possession to give the Shockers a four-point lead.
Baker had 16 for the Shockers. Cleanthony Early had 16 and Fred Van Vleet added 13 for the Shockers.
Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk had 26 points and 9 rebounds but struggled inside the paint at times. The Bulldogs had the size advantage over Wichita State in the paint, and the Bulldogs got many offensive rebounds to frustrate the Shockers, a team representing the underrated Missouri Valley Conference.
Gary Bell, Gonzaga’s best defender, rolled his ankle and did not return in the second half. His absence mattered, because Wichita State may not have made those three pointers down the stretch had Bell been on the floor defending–and in the faces of–Wichita State’s shooters on the perimeter.
Gonzaga trailed by 5 at halftime and trailed for the much of the first half.
The Bulldogs became the top-ranked team in the country for the first time in school history and many believed they could become the first mid-major team to win the national title.
A mid-major program still has an opportunity to win the championship. It just won’t be Gonzaga.