SALT LAKE CITY — Down goes the first one.
There will not be a repeat of 2008 — the only time all four No. 1 seeds made the Final Four of the NCAA tournament — as Wichita State shocked No. 1-seeded Gonzaga 76-70 Saturday night at EnergySolutions Arena.
After dominating at times to build a lead before blowing the advantage to trail by as many as eight, No. 9 seed Wichita State finished on a big run to move on to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2006.
"This is incredible for our team," said Shockers redshirt freshman Ron Baker, who came up huge down the stretch and finished with a team-leading 16 points. He also pulled down six rebounds and added four assists. "We came together down the stretch and pulled the upset off. The coaches and the team, we decided to pull together and we did. This feeling is unimaginable."
Wichita State players and coaches talked in their press conference leading up to the game about how they weren't going to be intimidated facing the top-ranked team in the country. They talked about how they wanted to be tough, and they backed up the talk. From the opening whistle, the Shockers were all over the Zags. Setting screens, holding, slapping, bumping, jostling, grabbing, you name it, the players from both sides were doing it.
"We came to play defense," said Shocker Carl Hall. "That is what we do. We play defense."
Wichita seemed to be able to shrug off the physical play better than the Bulldogs and were able to make some shots. After shooting a dismal 2 for 20 from the 3-point line against Pitt, the Shockers came out against the Zags on fire. They hit 7 of 15 from behind the arc in building and maintaining a lead in the opening half. Wichita State ultimately took a 36-31 lead into the locker room.
Nobody expected a team that had won 32 games and was ranked No. 1 during the season to simply wilt from the challenge the Shockers laid down. Gonzaga delivered as it made the run most expected.
Kelly Olynyk, who finished with 26 points and nine rebounds, and Kevin Pangos, who finished with 19 points and five assists, led the charge. The Zags finally overtook the Shockers at 43-41 at about the 13 ½-minute mark.
With just over 5 ½ minutes remaining, Pangos hit his second 3-pointer in less than a minute to give the Zags a 61-54 lead, and it seemed like they were well on their way to punching their ticket to Los Angeles.
Wichita State had other ideas.
Over the next 2:37, the Shockers went on an 8-0 run to turn the tables. The blitzkrieg included a 3-pointer by Cleanthony Early, a trey by Baker and a jumper from Hall that gave them the lead. They extended the lead as Baker hit another 3 and added two free throws to cap a 13-2 onslaught.
"Carl made a jumper to put us up by one, but Ron Baker had three 3s," said Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. " He's a winner. Ron Baker is a winner."
Staggered by the quick barrage, the Zags never fully recovered. A bucket by Olynyk brought them back to within two at 67-65 with 2:10 remaining, but a 30-foot bomb with the shot clock winding down by Fred VanVleet with 1:28 left and defender David Stockton right in his face may have been the straw that broke the No. 1 seed's back.
Wichita shot 50 percent for the game (25-50), 50 percent from 3 (14-28) and hit 12 of 18 free throws.
"They deserve a ton of credit," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. "It's a first time a while somebody shot 50 percent on us and to bang in 14 3s is pretty amazing."
With the win, Wichita State moves on to Los Angeles where it will face the winner of the No. 12 Ole Miss vs. No. 13 LaSalle game.14 comments on this story
"We did beat the No. 1 team in the country, the No. 1 team in our region, and that's just a wonderful feeling," said Marshall. "So we get to advance now. We get to go to L.A., and these guys deserve the happy accolades and honors and pats on the back that they're going to get. But they have assured me that they're not satisfied."
Michael Black is a writer, editor and page designer at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. He has been involved in the publication of the paper for the last nine years with an emphasis in sports