One thing we’ve learned from this year’s NCAA basketball tournament, seeding and rankings don’t mean much. It held true during the first round with eight upsets and two more in the second round Saturday. One of those upsets happened at the Energy Solutions Arena Saturday night as Wichita State, a nine seed, knocked off first-seeded Gonzaga 76-70. Gonzaga finished the regular season ranked as the #1 team in college basketball.
“This has been an incredible year in college basketball with its parity,” Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said after his team’s victory. “We beat the number one team in the country, the number one team in our region.”
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few wasn’t so sure being a number one seed really means much, or gives teams any particular advantage anymore.
“It should,” Few said. “We have a great team, not overly athletic, good sized and efficient. Wichita State was just a hot team, playing better than they have all year.”
The Shockers usually average 33% from three. Saturday night they shot 50% from the field, including 14-28 from three.
Marshall wasn’t afraid to celebrate on the court with his players after the victory, but he also didn’t want them to think they had accomplished everything.
“They assured me they are not satisfied.”
The Wichita State Shockers built a 13 point lead in the first half behind great outside shooting, only to see it whittled away and lost in the second half. Gonzaga played a more active defense on the perimeter and had more success with second chance points, eventually building an eight point lead with 11:53 left in the game.
“I was happy that we got back,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said after the game. “We had long stretches of great defense, efficient offense. But we got a little casual on defense.”
After Gonzaga had built their lead, Wichita St. started hitting from the outside again. At one point in the second half both teams traded back-to-back-to-back-to-back 3 point shots. While the lead differential didn’t change much, Wichita’s confidence did. The Shockers kept shooting and seemingly everything they tossed up went in, including a high arcing shot by freshman Fred VanVleet with only one second left on the shot clock.
“Fred made a majestic rainbow,” Marshall said. “It seemed like it lasted forever.”
The shot seemed to galvanize the Shockers and their belief that they would win, pushing their lead to five with only 1:28 left.
“We’ve got to be confident in our shot,” Wichita’s Ron Baker said after the game. “Nobody’s seen us shoot that well.”
Baker was instrumental in the second half comeback, hitting three of his four three-pointers for the game and finishing with a team-tying 16 points.
Although Gonzaga’s Olynyk finished with a game high 26 points and nine rebounds, he clearly wanted more, and so did his teammates.
“It’s over now and it hurts,” said Elias Harris. “I guess that’s just life.”