By Peter Tormey
(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) – Gonzaga’s roller-coaster men’s basketball season came to an abrupt halt Thursday night as the Bulldogs, who overcame so much adversity this year, had no answer for Indiana’s swarming and stingy defense as the Zags fell to the Hoosiers 70-57 at the ARCO Arena in the first round of the NCAA Tournament's West Region.
Indiana held the Zags to their second-lowest point total all season. Only Duke limited Gonzaga to fewer points this season when they beat the Bulldogs 61-54 on Dec. 21, 2006.
“It was rebounds and defense that won the game,” said Hoosiers’ first-year Coach Kelvin Sampson. “Our defense was certainly our calling card tonight.”
While the No. 7-seed Hoosiers advance to Saturday’s second-round game against UCLA, the Bulldogs are making plans to fly home today. UCLA’s Bruins, who knocked the Zags out of the Tournament last season in a dramatic finish, handily defeated Weber State 70-42 before the No. 10-seed Zags took the floor.
Gonzaga Coach Mark Few said the Bulldogs knew what to expect from the Hoosiers but missed too many shots and had a difficult time containing guard Roderick Wilmont, who hurt the Zags with 22 points and 7 rebounds, and 6-foot-9-inch forward D.J. White, who burned the Bulldogs with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
“We knew coming into this thing that it was going to be a tough, hard-nosed, grinder of a game and it was,” said Few whose Zags will not advance past the first round of the Tournament for the first time in five years. “I tip our hat to them, but I’m proud of these guys. As I told them, I am as proud of these guys as any team I have ever had.”
The Bulldogs not only won the West Coast Conference regular-season and Tournament crowns without center Josh Heytvelt, who remains on indefinite suspension following a drug possession charge last month, but they played one of the toughest schedules in the country and dealt with numerous injuries, Few said.
Senior guard Derek Raivio, who has led the Bulldogs all season and contributed 12 points Thursday night, said he has not yet had time to fully digest the impact of the season-ending loss.
“It hasn’t really hit me yet,” Raivio said. “It probably won’t hit me for a day or two. Life goes on, though.”
The Zags’ loss puts them at 12-10 all time in the NCAA Tournament. For Few, the loss was tempered perhaps by his pride in this team’s ability to fight back from adversity and accomplish far more than most people ever thought they might, given the difficulties.
“Like I said, I’m as proud as I’ve ever been of this squad,” Few said.
Junior David Pendergraft also contributed 12 points, while senior Sean Mallon added 11 points and 6 rebounds to become the Zags’ third player to finish with double-digit scoring.
Gonzaga fans’ attention now shifts to Palo Alto, Calif., and Maples Pavilion on the Stanford University campus, site of the Gonzaga women’s first-round NCAA Tournament basketball game Saturday against No. 5-seed Middle Tennessee State (29-3). The 12th-seeded Bulldogs (24-9) are making their first appearance in the NCAA Tournament after having captured both the West Coast Conference regular-season and tournament titles.
ZagNotes: Dale Goodwin is covering the Bulldogs at the tournament in Palo Alto and welcomes contacts from alumni, parents of current students and friends of the University. While he is in Palo Alto, please contact him via e-mail at email@example.com if there are alumni events or other happenings of interest to Zags fans who will be in Palo Alto for the Tournament.