Gonzaga has history on its side

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports

By Paul Gotham

Holy Pete Carril! The Gonzaga Bulldogs can sleep comfortably tonight.

Kelly Olynyk  notched a double-double as the Bulldogs avoided the infamous distinction of becoming the first number one seed to fall to a sixteen seed when Gonzaga trimmed Southern University, 64-58.

The close call could bode well, though, for the Zags. If recent history means anything, Final Four participants usually have a nail-biter or two on their way to the final weekend of the season

Villanova’s Wildcats reached the 2009 Final Four. American University almost de-clawed the number three seed ‘Cats before the train got out of the station.  Garrison Carr and Brian Gilmore combined to drain seven first-half three-pointers as the Eagles took a ten-point lead into the break of their first round East Region match-up.  AU pushed the margin to 14 in the second stanza before Scottie Reynolds and the Wildcats whittled away at the deficit. Dwayne Anderson connected from behind the arc giving Villanova its first lead of the second half at 58-55 with 6:22 remaining. Villanova went on to an 80-67 victory.  Villanova lost to eventual National Champion, UNC, 83-69.

Butler’s Bulldogs haven’t yet earned a number one seed. But Butler did have a close call or two advancing to their first Final Four. Butler captured the imagination of many as they made their run in 2010 Dance. There almost was a different Cinderella. Number 13 seed Murray State led the Bulldogs 50-48 with less than two minutes remaining in the second round West Region tilt. The Racers had a chance to tie the score on their final possession before falling 54-52. Butler eventually dropped a 61-59 decision to Duke in the finals.

Bill Self’s Kansas Jayhawks claimed the 2008 NCAA title, but Rock, Chalk nation held its breath as the ten seed Davidson Wildcats launched a three at the buzzer in a 59-57 Kansas triumph in the Midwest Regional final. Kansas went on to defeat UNC, 84-66 before beating Memphis in the championship, 75-68.

Kemba Walker provided the nation with a how-to video on the use of the step-back jumper leading UConn to the 2011 title. The Huskies helplessly watched as Jamelle Horne‘s buzzer-beating three-point attempt kicked off the back iron as UConn nipped Arizona 65-63 in the West Regional final. One week later, UConn defeated Kentucky, 56-55 in the national semi-final. Jim Calhoun and the Huskies went on to defeat Butler 53-41 in the championship.

Gonzaga outrebounded Southern, 36-20 and held the Jaguars to 39 percent (18-46) from the floor, Thursday afternoon.  But Southern connected on 10-of-23 (43.5 percent) attempts behind the arc.

“When they start shooting the ball like they did at multiple spots that they hadn’t necessarily shown all year, the crowd gets going and everybody wants to see that first 1/16 loss,” said Gonzaga head coach Mark Few.   “My guys played well when there wasn’t a whole lot going their way.”

Olynyk scored 17 of his game-high 21 in the second half.

“We focused on finishing tag contact,” Olynyk said when asked what worked better in the second half. ” David Stockton and Kevin (Pangos) got me the ball off the pick and roll, so all I had to do is lay it in.  So they really made my second half what it was.”

Southern defenders had eight blocks on the game.

“They definitely weren’t scared to jump up and meet you at the rim,” Olynyk stated.  “They played really physical down low and a lot of times they have guards or other big men rotating over and trying to block shots up high.  They’re a very athletic team, and we kinda just had to fight through that.”

Olynyk hit six-of-eight from the floor and five-of-seven from the free throw line in the second twenty.

“It’s kind of vintage of how it’s been all year,” Few said of Olynyk.  “We started calling his number and directing the ball his way a little bit, and the guys do a great job of figuring out where we’re having success.”

Gonzaga will meet Wichita State in third round action, Saturday.

Carril and the number sixteen seed Princeton Tigers came within an eyelash of knocking off number-one seed Georgetown in the 1989 NCAA Tournament. Alonzo Mourning and the Hoyas edged the Tigers, 50-49 in the East Region first round game.

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