The wild three-pointer from Wichita State’s Fred Van Vleet hadn’t even passed entirely through the net when a collective groan emanated from every living room and bar in Spokane. Seconds later, it was followed by a smug snicker from the naysayers-at-large who doubted Gonzaga’s No. 1 seed all along. Told you so, they were saying.
About a minute and a half of game time later it was all over. In the fleeting style that makes the NCAA basketball tournament the last great thing in sports, the Zags’ season had been put to bed early. And without dessert. Gonzaga fans were as dumbfounded as their team’s players, who walked slowly toward the locker room, staring blankly ahead as they untucked their jerseys, some of them for the last time in their careers, acknowledging defeat. This was supposed to have been the best squad ever assembled in Spokane, but now it was all over.
There hasn’t been much talk about the Zags around the water coolers and watering holes since Saturday night — the same day the Lady Zags’ season also came to an end. No one is talking about how these guys won 32 games, more than any other team in school history, or that they earned a No. 1 ranking and a No. 1 seed. That’s because their season — just like that of every other team in this tournament but one — ended with a loss. Thus begins a time to mourn what could have been.
But the tournament isn’t over and schools like Florida Gulf Coast and La Salle are busy “pulling a Gonzaga” of their own, hoping to make the sort of deep run the Zags did in 1999 and maybe building something like Mark Few has done here in Spokane. GU fans should be cheering for those teams, because GU used to be an underdog and they should still champion the unexpected. After all, the unexpected is exactly what makes college basketball great, even if sometimes it’s hard to accept, especially when you’re still in mourning.