No. 8 Northwestern was rolling.
They were on a 23-8 run, having trimmed what was once a 20-point deficit down to just five. There were five minutes left in the game, and the collective hope of Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Doug Collins and 75 percent of the sports journalism world was going to be enough to lead the Wildcats to the miraculous upset.
And then this happened:
A dunk attempt by Dererk Pardon was blocked by Zach Collins, according to the officials, but Collins had actually blocked the shot by putting his hand up through the rim. It’s quite clearly a blown call by the officiating staff — one that was confirmed in a release by the NCAA on Saturday evening — and to compound their error, the ref closest to Northwestern head coach Chris Collins lit him up with a technical foul when he protested. (Collins earned the tech by running on the floor, but he was justified in being angry.)
Instead of a bucket that would have cut Gonzaga’s lead to three points and continued to add game pressure on a team that doesn’t exactly have the best reputation of being able to handle game pressure, Gonzaga got a pair of free throws and was able to push the lead back to ten points two possessions later. Northwestern never threatened again, and Gonzaga went on to win, 79-73.
It was a brutal break for the Wildcats, one that I’m sure Mark Few isn’t going to complain about, as the Zags avoided bowing out of the tournament in the second round, which was the fate the program suffered the last time that they were a No. 1 seed.
Nigel Williams-Goss led the way with 20 points for the Zags, while Zach Collins chipped in with 14 points, five boards and four blocks off the bench as the Zags advanced to the Sweet 16 for the third straight season, where they will face No. 4 seed West Virginia.