Score: Wichita State 76, Gonzaga 70
Key stats: WSU made 14 of 28 three-pointers and 25 of 50 shots while holding Gonzaga to a season-low 35.6 percent from the field.
How the game turned: Three-pointers by Tekele Cotton, Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker turned a seven-point deficit into a one-point deficit with 4:23 remaining and swung the momentum permanently to the Shockers. Carl Hall followed with a jumper to give WSU the lead at 62-61.
- Wichita State won the matchup with Gonzaga center Kelly Olynyk on both ends of the court. On defense, Hall and Ehimen Orukpe limited his post touches and made him a jump shooter. They discouraged him in the lane early and Olynyk moved to the perimeter. When he did get the ball in the lane, several Shockers were ready to bother him. He scored 26 points, but made only 8 of 22 shots. “He’s a great player,” Hall said. “I like that challenge.” On defense, WSU drew Olynyk away from the lane. He guarded Early, who used his quickness to score 16 points and make 4 of 7 threes.
- WSU made 2 of 20 three-pointers in its win over Pittsburgh. It entered the game shooting 33 percent from behind the arc. So keeping Hall away from the rim and keeping Malcolm Armstead from driving led the Gonzaga scouting report. That opened up shots for the Shockers. Gonzaga’s defense also suffered from the loss of Gary Bell Jr., its best perimeter defender, to a foot injury late in the first half. “We wanted to be in the gaps because we were determined about Malcolm Armstead, who we did a great job on, and Hall,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Those are tough guys in the paint and we wanted to get in there and rake on them.”
- WSU coach Gregg Marshall must have used every defense in his playbook. When the Zags took the second-half lead, WSU played zone and pressed to stop that momentum. While the presses gave up some points, they worked. “On a few of those crucial possessions they switched it up on us and we didn’t adjust and respond like we needed to,” Gonzaga guard Mike Hart said. WSU’s pressure helped disrupt Gonzaga’s offense, even when it gave up baskets. “I don’t think they liked it,” Marshall said.
- WSU’s defense held Gonzaga to a season-low 35.6 percent shooting, despite giving up 21 offensive rebounds and 22 second-chance points. “Our first-shot defense was incredible,” Marshall said. “They killed us on the glass. Hart is a great offensive rebounder (7 offensive rebounds and 14 total) and I love how he plays the game.”
- Even through some shooting struggles, the Shockers don’t back off from behind the arc. Marshall’s calculation has always been that his team will defend and rebound well enough to stay in the game. On nights when his team gets hot from three, it can beat almost any team. That formula worked against No. 1 Gonzaga, much like it did last season against UNLV in Koch Arena. “You’ve got to be confident,” Baker said. “We shoot well in practice, so why can’t we shoot it good in a game?” WSU’s 14 threes are its most this season. Only twice (vs. Northern Colorado and Drake) did WSU make more than 10 in a game, 12 both times. “It’s the first time in a while somebody shot 50 percent on us, and to bang in 14 threes is pretty amazing,” Few said.
- If WSU’s shooting looked familiar to Gonzaga fans, they remember a 2011 tournament loss to BYU and Jimmer Fredette, 89-67. BYU made 14 of 28 threes, with Fredette making 7 of 12.
- Few is likely steeled for an off-season of criticism. Some doubted his team’s credentials as a No. 1 seed, largely due to the weakness of the West Coast Conference. The Zags, again, under-performed for their seed. They lost in the round of 32 for the fourth straight season and haven’t advanced past the Sweet 16 since 1999. Those performances don’t match Gonzaga’s national reputation. Despite their reputation, the Zags don’t attract top-level athletes. They are skilled, they play well together and they play hard. “What we are and what we had was a great team,” Few told the Seattle Times. “We’re not overly athletic. We’re based on just playing together and we have a high level of skill, good size and we play hard and we’re pretty efficient.”
- Spend a few moments today savoring the possibility of Cotton defending Mississippi’s Marshall Henderson. The Rebels play La Salle today in Kansas City for the right to face the Shockers in Los Angeles.
- WSU is 2-6 against teams ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. The first win came in 1963 against Cincinnati in Wichita.
Up next: West Regional semifinal, Thursday in Los Angeles