Shocker? Zags Bagged
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Entering Saturday night's pairing with Witchita State, the Gonzaga Bulldogs had only suffered two losses all season.
In one, Illinois prevailed when Brandon Paul rained treys in the Kennel.
In the other, Butler got a miracle finish when Roosevelt Jones hit a mini-Hail Mary after intercepting an incredibly poor inbounds pass by the usually steady David Stockton.
It's ironic, then, that two of the key ingredients in the Shockers' living up to their name were a hailstorm of threes and an inbounds violation by David Stockton.
Witchita State nailed a season-high 14 shots from behind the arc. If Zag coach Mark Few had the choice of denying the Shockers inside and letting them fire away from outside, he no doubt would have taken those odds in a heartbeat. Surely, his strategy was more complex than that, but it didn't make much of a difference. Whether wide open or contorting around flailing Zag defenders, the Shocker sharpshooters rose to the moment and did what underdogs have to do when facing a top seed in the Big Dance.
Harder to explain was the mind cramp of Stockton, whose guerrilla-tactic defensive performance against Southern University was a major reason the Bulldogs escaped to the next round. After a converted Shocker free throw, he was apparently under the impression he was accepting the ball from a teammate and stepped out of bounds to begin the routine procedure of putting the ball back in play.
One problem. He was actually receiving an inbounds pass. An inexplicable error from a guard with game smarts bred into him.
A 76-70 Shocker victory was thus on its way to blaring headlines in a media outlet near you.
Two plays do not a game's fate make, but they can symbolize its theme. And in this one, Witchita State didn't necessarily impose its will on Gonzaga as much as it imposed its will on itself. After watching a 13-point first half lead erode into an 8-point second half deficit, the Shockers simply imposed a heavy dose of their vaunted athleticism on the Zags and waited for extraordinary moments to assert themselves in the waning minutes of the contest.
They did. Seven straight treys at the end and a fluke turnover.
That's what it took to bring down the big dog in the dance, and now the Shockers will wait a week for the music to start again.