Gonzaga was hoping to make hoops history in the NCAA basketball tourney. They still may, but they barely averted the worst kind of sports notoriety.
Southern University was not intimidated while the No. 1 Zags were discombobulated. But order finally prevailed in the late going in Salt Lake City Thursday afternoon, thanks to Kevin Pangos, as the Bulldogs missed becoming the first loser to a 16th seed in the annals of March Madness.
Pangos hit a step-back three-pointer in the corner for a 62-58 lead with 1:45 remaining, then two free throws at 14.3 seconds left to seal the win and advance the Zags to Saturday’s match against Wichita State, which beat Pitt 73-55 earlier Thursday.
No. 1 seeds were 112-0 in the tourney’s opening games, but few dreamed that stat would be re-visited in the late going. The Jags tied the score at 56 with 3:45 left after a 15-4 run. Gary Bell of Kentridge High School broke the spell with a three to give the Zags the permanent lead, but that never became obvious until the final seconds.
Southern’s Derick Beltran hit two free throws to cut the deficit to one. But the Zags patiently worked their offense until Pangos (16 points) hit his dagger from the baseline. Southern’s Yondarius Jackson and Malcom Miller each had good looks in the next two Jags; possessions, but misfired.
Kelly Olynyk led the Zags with 21 points, but only four came in a sluggish first half that allowed the Jaguars of Baton Rouge, LA.,, champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, to gain confidence.
Gonzaga, champs of the West Coast Conference and a No. 1 seed for the first time in program history, are attempting to become the first team in state of Washington history to win the NCAA men’s title.