Shocker: Wichita State downs No. 1 Gonzaga
Salt Lake City, UT – Living up to its nickname, Wichita State pulled off the shocker of Saturday's third round of the NCAA Tournament.
Cleanthony Early and Ron Baker each scored 16 points and led a blistering outside shooting display that propelled the Shockers to a 76-70 ousting of top-seeded Gonzaga in a thrilling West Region matchup.
Both players combined for eight of Wichita State's season-high 14 makes from 3-point range, with Baker knocking down 4-of-6 tries and Early going 4-of-7 from beyond the arc. That marksmanship helped enable the ninth-seeded Shockers (28-8) to become the first Missouri Valley Conference member to reach the Sweet 16 since Northern Iowa delivered a similar upset in the 2010 Tournament, when the Panthers knocked off powerhouse Kansas as a nine seed in that year's second round.
"They never quit," Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall said. "You know we got the big lead, Gonzaga makes a great run as a No. 1 team in the country would, and these guys dig down."
Fred Van Vleet contributed 13 points off the bench and Carl Hall had 10 points for Wichita State, which now heads to Los Angeles to await the winner of Sunday's game between Ole Miss and La Salle in Thursday's Regional semifinal.
Gonzaga (32-3) entered the contest with a No. 1 national ranking and a 15-game win streak, but fell in the round of 32 for the fourth consecutive year after struggling to a 35.6 percent shooting rate against Wichita State's tight defense.
"They deserve ton of credit," Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. "It's the first time in a while someone made 50 percent on us, and to bang in 14 3s is pretty amazing."
West Coast Conference Player of the Year Kelly Olynyk finished with a game- high 26 points, but made good on only 8-of-22 field goal attempts. Elias Harris, Gonzaga's second-leading scorer, was just 2-of-8 from the floor in a disappointing 12-point effort.
Gonzaga trailed by as many as 13 points in the first half and was down the entire second until back-to-back treys from Kevin Pangos and Mike Hart gave the Bulldogs a 43-41 edge with 13:36 left to play. The baskets ignited a stretch of 12 straight Gonzaga points culminating in Pangos' steal and layup that put the favorites up by eight with just under 12 minutes remaining.
Baker answered with a 3-pointer off a media timeout, however, and Early buried one just over two minutes later as part of 7-2 flurry that brought Wichita State within 51-48 just past the midway stage of the second half.
The Bulldogs were able to keep the Shockers at bay due to sharp outside shooting from Pangos, who drained two triples over a 1 1/2-minute span to provide his team with a 61-54 advantage with 5:32 to go. Early and Baker each struck again from long distance, though, and Hall hit a short jumper to cap an 8-0 sequence that put Wichita State back ahead with 3:29 left.
Harris then made two free throws to allow Gonzaga to regain the lead, but the Shockers responded with a pivotal 10-2 burst that put the game away. Baker and Van Vleet both sank 3-pointers during that ran as well, and the latter calmly hit a pair from the line with 39 seconds left for a 72-65 score that was too much for the Bulldogs to overcome.
Wichita State broke open a close contest early on by ripping off 13 straight points over a stretch of three-plus minutes. Perimeter shooting fueled that tear as well, with treys from Malcolm Armstead and Early jump-starting the push and Tekele Cotton adding one of his own that staked the Shockers to a 23-12 lead with 7:42 left in the half.
Baker connected from long distance 43 seconds later, following an Olynyk free throw, putting Wichita State up by a 26-13 count.
Gonzaga later closed within 34-31 by virtue of five straight points from Olynyk late in the frame, but Jake White tipped in a Van Vleet missed jumper at the buzzer to send the Shockers into the locker room up by five.
Gonzaga became the just the fifth team entering the NCAA Tournament with a NO. 1 overall ranking to lose in the Round of 32 since 1985, joining Oklahoma (1990), North Carolina (1994), Stanford (2004) and Kansas (2010) ... Wichita State outscored the Bulldogs by a 34-7 margin in bench points, with Early and Van Vleet accounting for 29 of those ... The Shockers advanced to the Sweet 16 for the fifth time in program history and first since 2006, when they lost to George Mason in the Regional semifinals ... Wichita State made 12 shots from 3-point range twice previously this season ... Shockers head coach Gregg Marshall lost to Gonzaga in the 2005 NCAA Tournament while he was the head coach at Winthrop.