Ten Heart-Stopping Years

by HOWIE STALWICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & M & lt;/span & ake it to the NCAA Tournament, and you've had quite a season. Make it to the NCAA tournament 10 consecutive seasons, and you've had quite a decade. Gonzaga basketball has woven its way into the very soul of the Inland Northwest. The Bulldogs sell out every game at their glitzy arena, fly to road games on a charter jet and spend more time on TV than Jay Leno.

Was it really just 20 years ago when the Bulldogs were completing a decade with just two winning seasons? Thirteen years since they went to the NCAA Tournament for the first time? Just nine years ago when they cracked the Top 25 for the first time?

How time flies when you're mercifully pounding most opponents into submission during 11 straight seasons with 23 or more wins. The first of those teams went to the NIT, but the last 10 have made it to the NCAA Tournament.

Gonzaga's NCAA tournament games have provided fans of the region with some of their favorite sports memories. Listed below, in reverse order of importance -- in the opinion of this longtime Gonzaga observer, anyway -- are the 10 most memorable NCAA tournament games in Gonzaga history.

(10) Gonzaga vs. Maryland, 1995: You never forget your first time -- get your head out of the gutter, we're talking basketball here -- and an 0-6 start in conference play made it that much sweeter for the Zags to make their first-ever trip to the Big Dance. Jason Rubright held national Player of the Year Joe Smith to nine points, but 10th-ranked Maryland crushed coach Dan Fitzgerald's squad 87-63 at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.

(9) Gonzaga vs. Minnesota, 1999: The Bulldogs' second tournament game resulted in their first victory, a 75-63 decision at KeyArena in Seattle. Richie Frahm scored 26 points against a Minnesota squad decimated by the loss of two starters and two reserves due to an academic scandal. Four months later, coach Dan Monson left Gonzaga for Minnesota, and little-known assistant coach Mark Few was promoted to replace Monson.

(8) Gonzaga vs. Xavier, 2006: National scoring champion Adam Morrison set a school record for NCAA tournament games by pouring in 35 points in Gonzaga's first-round win. Morrison, the former Mead High School star, sank 11 of 21 field-goal attempts, 4 of 8 3-pointers and 9 of 11 free throws in a 79-75 victory at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City.

(7) Gonzaga vs. Virginia, 2001: Washington transfer Dan Dickau drained six 3-pointers and scored 29 points, and Casey Calvary piled up 16 points, 15 rebounds (a GU record for the tournament) and three blocked shots. The 12th-seeded Bulldogs nipped the fifth-seeded Cavaliers 86-85 in the first round when Calvary tossed in a shot with 9.2 seconds left after Dickau's shot was blocked at the Pyramid in Memphis.

(6) Gonzaga vs. UCLA, 2006: Adam Morrison's college career and fifth-ranked Gonzaga's dreams of a national title ended with a shocking 73-71 loss in Oakland. The third-seeded Bulldogs outplayed the second-seeded Bruins much of the way, but UCLA closed with an 11-0 run. The Bulldogs finished 29-4 and tied the school record for wins; the Bruins finished 32-7 after losing to Florida in the national title game.

(5) Gonzaga vs. St. John's, 2000: Point guard Matt Santangelo buried three of his six 3-pointers down the stretch to lift the 10th-seeded Bulldogs past the second-seeded Red Storm at the McKale Center in Tucson. Santangelo finished with 26 points, and he added five assists as the Bulldogs dominated inside in a second-round contest against a St. John's team with plenty of talent but little size or depth. "They play real well together -- like they've been playing together their whole lives," St. John's star Erick Barkley said.

(4) Gonzaga vs. Florida, 1999: Casey Calvary's put-back with 4.4 seconds remaining sent the Bulldogs to the Elite Eight for the only time in school history. Richie Frahm led the Bulldogs with five 3-pointers and 17 points in a 73-72 triumph at America West Arena in Phoenix.

(3) Gonzaga vs. Stanford, 1999: The 10th-seeded Bulldogs' march to the Elite Eight included their first major upset in an NCAA Tournament, an 82-74 decision over the second-seeded (and seventh-ranked) Cardinal at KeyArena in Seattle. Santangelo led the way with 22 points in the second round.

(2) Gonzaga vs. Connecticut, 1999: The Elite Eight run that drew unprecedented national attention to the Gonzaga basketball program and the school as a whole ended with a thrilling 67-62 loss to the eventual national champions from UConn. Tiny guard Quentin Hall led Gonzaga with 18 points against a 32-2 Husky squad that featured current Detroit Pistons star Richard Hamilton.

(1) Gonzaga vs. Arizona, 2003: In a nation where it seems half the fans and media still call the school Gunn-ZAW-guh, hordes of fans and media on both coasts and all points in between swear this is the best game in tournament history. In a seesaw affair, the ninth-seeded Bulldogs took the top-seeded Wildcats to double overtime at the Huntsman Center in Salt Lake City. Gonzaga star Blake Stepp matched the career-high 25 points of teammate Tony Skinner, but Stepp's potential game-winning shot from maybe 5 feet rimmed out at the end of a 96-95 defeat. "I think that's one of the great games of all-time," Arizona's Rick Anderson said. Teammate Luke Walton added, "That was as good a team as I've played in my five years here."

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