Gonzaga pulls out 64-58 win over Southern University
Still don't think Gonzaga deserved that No. 1 seed? There might be a few more doubters now.
Entering the NCAA tournament top-seeded and top-ranked for the first time in program history, the Zags nearly made another kind of history Thursday - coming only a few minutes and a rimmed-out shot or two from becoming the first 1 to lose to a 16.
Gonzaga prevailed 64-58 over Southern University in a game that wasn't safely in hand until the final buzzer sounded. No. 1 seeds improved to 113-0 since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985.
The Bulldogs (32-2) will play No. 9 Wichita State on Saturday.
Kelly Olynyk led the Zags with 21 points, though it was a pair of 3-pointers - one by Gary Bell Jr., the next by Kevin Pagnos - that gave Gonzaga its small cushion after Southern (23-10) tied things at 56 with 3:45 left.
Bell's 3 made it 59-56 after Derick Beltran hit a 14-footer on the baseline to close out a 15-4 Southern run and tie the game.
Beltran hit two free throws to cut the deficit to one, but Gonzaga responded by working the ball to Pagnos, whose 3 made it a four-point game.
Yondarius Johnson and Malcom Miller both had open looks on the next possession for Southern but neither could convert.
Pagnos (16 points) made two free throws with 14.3 seconds left to seal the deal. But when Zags coach Mark Few shook hands with his counterpart, Roman Banks, at midcourt, it was hard to tell who won; Banks looked like he was doing the consoling.
But it's Southern going home - down in the archives next to the 1989 Princeton squad that nearly upset top-seeded Georgetown and East Tennessee State, which lost by one to No. 1 Oklahoma in the same tournament.
It was a fitting start to March Madness 2013 - the capper to a season filled with upsets, shifts atop The Associated Press poll and no dominant team.
Gonzaga's critics felt the West Coast Conference champions got to No. 1 by default more than anything.
The Zags shut out that talk and said they'd take their first game as NCAA tournament front-runners the way they'd taken the previous 33.
But they ran into a team in Southern, enrollment 6,900 out of Baton Rouge, La., and champions of the Southwestern Athletic Conference, that wasn't intimidated by the Zags, but rather spent the season trying to emulate them.
The Jaguars fell behind 7-0 over the first 3 1/2 minutes, but reeled off eight straight points after that. For the rest of the afternoon, this looked nothing like a typical 1-16 matchup. Southern took away the high-low game between Olynyk and forward Elias Harris, frustrated the Zags relentlessly and, during one stretch early in the second half, blocked three of Gonzaga's inside shots in the span of 48 seconds.
Despite its struggles, Gonzaga kept working the ball to Olynyk in the second half. At one point, he had 17 of Gonzaga's 20 second-half points.
What the Bulldogs really needed was another option. Not until the tail end did Bell and Pagnos come through.