LOS ANGELES—So that’s a Thursday wrap here from Staples Center and just so you know…there will be no “West of the story.”
The West Coast Conference stayed in the NCAA longest, the Big West lasted one day longer than the Pac West and then Loyola-Chicago shot the team from Reno, just to watch it die.
Time for long walks on the beach, barbecues, palm readings, hot yoga and ginger-banana smoothies.
Nevada’s one-point loss to Sister Jean’s Ramblers in the fender-bender South bracket left Gonzaga holding the West’s last candle in the wind.
But it got blown out.
Gonzaga, the school with no football program that came a minute (or so) from winning last year’s NCAA title, lost Friday’s regional semifinal to football factory Florida State.
The score was 75-60 and it was a real tomahawk chop. Florida State will now play Michigan (more about Big Blue later) on Saturday for the West Regional title.
We’re used to Florida State making deep football runs—even in this part of the country.
The Seminoles won the last BCS title in the Rose Bowl and also played (sort of) in a national semifinal against Oregon in the Granddaddy.
But basketball? Florida State’s win puts it in the Elite Eight for only the third time in history.
Gonzaga fans can cite extenuating circumstances for the latest in a series of NCAA knock-out punches in the West.
Killian Tillie, the Zags’ talented 6-10 forward and second-leading scorer, was a late scratch with a hip injury suffered in practice this week. Coach Mark Few said Tillie worked hard to get ready and even warmed up before Thursday’s game but tweaked the hip again in warm ups.
“It’s kind of your worst nightmare as a coach,” Few said.
To say Tillie he could have been used against a team of fly-swatters is an understatement—but these kind of freakish things happen. I sprained my ankle so badly before the Notre Dame vs. Alabama national title game of 2012 I could barely type. Good thing the game was over at halftime.
Gonzaga did not react well to the lineup change or the Seminoles’ long, athletic rim defenders.
“Obviously when got the news on Killian, we knew it was going to be even more difficult,”Few said.
Florida State may have been the No. 9 seed here, and Gonzaga the No. 4, but this win was no joke. The Seminoles run nine deep and were fresh off last week’s win over top-seeded Xavier.
With Tillie out, Gonzaga appeared stressed by FSU’s size and athleticism. The Seminoles had nine blocked shots, led by Mfiondu Kabengele’s four.
Florida State held Gonzaga to 20 of 59 shooting and allowed only five three pointers in 20 attempts.
Gonzaga came close to winning it all last year, out of the west, but has known plenty of Regional heartbreak.
It started in 1999, when Jim Calhoun’s first national title team at Connecticut went through Gonzaga in Phoenix.
Then came 2003, in Salt Lake City, when Arizona knocked the Zags out in double OT in what remains one of the top-five games I’ve ever covered.
The 2006 regional, in Oakland, ended with Adam Morrison crying on the court after a stunning loss to UCLA.
Back to Salt Lake, in 2013, Gonzaga lost the West to No. 9-seeded Wichita State.
Gonzaga will be back, no doubt, so long as Mark Few likes fly fishing in Eastern Washington. But you can also wonder whether Gonzaga blew its best chance, last year, to bring it all home.
At least Gonzaga-FSU was better than the first semifinal game—but not by much.
No. 3 Michigan vs. No. 7 Texas A&M would have been much better in the Citrus Bowl. This is no lie, I stopped taking notes with 12:08 left…in the first half. Michigan has now seen the extreme ends of NCAA basketball pressure.
The Wolverines were so lucky to survive Houston last weekend they should have bought stock in Ireland. They trailed by two with 3.9 seconds left, with Houston at the line shooting two free throws.
No way, right?
Wrong. Houston missed two and then freshmen Jordan Poole grew a pair, sinking a long three-point shot at the buzzer to send Michigan to Los Angeles.
Thursday’s game was not anything like that one, except for Poole making the first three-point shot he tried against Texas A&M.
The Aggies should have boarded the bus right then and there. Michigan easily countered TAMU’s athletic back line with precision basketball and sharp shooting.
It was 27-10 before anyone blinked and 52-28 at the half. You can’t win when one team makes 14 of 24 three-point attempts—you just can’t.
The second half found the Staples crowd cheering for time outs so that everyone could watch the jumbo screen feed of the Loyola-Nevada game.
Up by a gazillion, John Beilein cleared his bench with 2:08 left and Texas A&M could only shake its collective head after Michigan scrub C.J. Baird sank a long three in the closing seconds. He threw up three-fingers like he did this all the time, when it was actually his first three of the season.
Baird started fall ball a team manager, in fact, before earning a deep-state bench spot as a walk-on. He had totaled seven minutes entering Thursday play with one basket and 35 DNPs (Did Not Play).
Baird is the epitome, though, of the phrase: student-athlete.
“We didn’t have room on the roster,” Beilein said. “He was a manger. By the way, he’s brilliant. Absolutely brilliant. close to a perfect score, I think, on the SAT.”
It was that kind of night for Michigan.
“Those are the great moments,” Beilein said. “Those are the ones I may remember more than others.”