Wichita State had blown it.
After building a lead that grew as big as 13 points in the first half, the Shockers had watched as Gonzaga outscored them 36-15 over a 15 minute stretch that was capped by a 12-0 run. The surge pushed the Zags ahead 49-41. Their all-american Kelly Olynyk was playing like an all-american. Their star point guard Kevin Pangos had finally heated up. The Zags were simply punishing WSU on the offensive glass. It looked like they were getting ready to put the finishing touches on a trip to the Sweet 16.
No one told Ron Baker.
The freshman shooting guard sparked 31-16 run over the next 11 minutes, scoring 11 of his 16 points and handing out two of his four assists, as the Shockers knocked off No. 1 seed Gonzaga 76-70 to advance to the Sweet 16. Gregg Marshall’s club will take on the winner of No. 12 seed Ole Miss and No. 13 seed La Salle for the right to go to the Elite 8. Think about that.
Baker wasn’t the only freshman making big plays down the stretch, however. Point guard Fred Van Vleet assisted on a pair of threes before drilling a high-arcing, 25-footer over David Stockton with a little more than a minute left on the clock. The shot put Wichita State up three and just about put Gonzaga to sleep.
All told, those two combined for 29 points, seven boards and seven assists. They hit six of Wichita State’s 14 threes and, more importantly, either made or assisted on six of the seven threes that the Shockers hit in the final 12 minutes that erased Gonzaga’s 49-41 lead.
Making this performance all the more impressive? Baker missed 21 games this season. He hadn’t played since December 13th when he saw 19 minutes of action in Wichita State’s win over Missouri State in their MVC tournament opener. He’s not the only Shocker that has missed a significant amount of time this season, either. Carl Hall missed seven games after breaking his thumb. Evan Wessel hasn’t played since December. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that Wichita State lost their entire starting lineup from a season ago.
Should I mention that it wasn’t even three weeks ago that Wichita State lost two Missouri Valley titles to Creighton within the span of eight days?
So go right ahead.
Play pick your storyline.
Because there plenty of them.
But the bottom line is that the Shockers lived up to their nickname, knocked off the No. 1 team in the country in thrilling fashion and will live to play another day.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.