The last time Gonzaga had lost, we were only three weeks into 2013. That is no more.
No. 9-seeded Wichita State climbed back from an eight-point second half deficit to upset No. 1-seeded Gonzaga, 76-70, knocking off the first No. 1 seed of the tournament and advancing to the Sweet 16 in the process at EnergySolutions Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah, Saturday night.
Wichita State used 50 shooting from the field, including 14-of-26 shooting from three-point range to erase that deficit and take the lead, 64-63, with 3:10 to play. That was made possible by three-pointers on back-to-back-to-back possessions over a three-minute span that ignited the Shockers’ offense.
Among those three-point shooters were Ron Baker and Cleanthony Early, both of whom were 4-of-6 from three-point range on the night. That impressive shooting night comes after shooting 2-of-20 as a team in the Round of 64 against Pittsburgh.
Gonzaga could not survive the upset despite grabbing 20 offensive rebounds on the night. Wichita State did a fine job of bothering big man and National Player of the Year candidate Kelly Olynyk, who needed 22 shots to score 26 points on the night. They also concentrated the offensive production in the hands of three players: Olynyk, Kevin Pangos, and Elias Harris. Those three combined for 81 percent of the team’s scoring.
Gonzaga becomes the third No. 1 seed in the past four years to lose in the Round of 32 and the first No. 1 seed to be eliminated from this 2013 NCAA tournament. And that comes after perhaps the shakiest performance by a No. 1 seed in the Round of 64, when No. 16-seed Southern ran the Bulldogs to the wire Thursday evening.
Lapses on the perimeter hurt Gonzaga and three-point shooting like it endured Saturday is not easily reconciled, even when rebounding on the offensive boards at a rate that they did.
For Gonzaga, it means another pre-Elite Eight elimination, meaning Dan Monson remains the only head coach to lead the Bulldogs past the Sweet 16.
This Round of 32 loss does little to substantiate the calls for more respect to be given to this batch of mid-major teams on the West Coast that came throughout the season. Those calls grew louder when Gonzaga reached No. 1 in the national polls. Of the seven teams from the Mountain West and West Coast Conference that made the NCAA tournament, only San Diego State has a chance to make it to the Sweet 16. The Aztecs tip off against No. 15-seed Florida Gulf Coast on Sunday at 7:10 p.m.
That series of losses includes No. 3 New Mexico in an upset to No. 14 Harvard in the Round of 64, UNLV, and Saint Mary’s in that same round, as well as Boise State in the First Four and Colorado State in the Round of 32.
The Gonzaga loss could have one other lasting effect on the NCAA tournament: No. 1 seeding for mid-major schools. With this memory of Bulldog loss, there could be some hesitancy to hand another non-BCS school a No. 1 seed. The ironic part is, though, that many may fail to remember that it was a mid-major who eliminated that mid-major No. 1.