Gonzaga eliminates favored St. John's with 82-76 victory

No. 10 seed Bulldogs stun second-seeded Red Storm

West at Tucson, Ariz.

Ncaa Tournament

March 19, 2000|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

TUCSON, Ariz. -- Gonzaga did it again.

No, this isn't a reference to its 82-76 win yesterday over No. 2 seed St. John's, supposedly an upset because of the Bulldogs' No. 10 seeding in the West Regional. Nor is this a reference to another appearance by Gonzaga in the Sweet 16.

Gonzaga made it to the West Regional final a year ago, and except for a loss against eventual national champion Connecticut, the team is perfect against "superior" teams in the past two years of the NCAA tournament.

What the Bulldogs (26-8) did to St. John's (25-8) is exactly what they to Louisville two days ago. They fell back a little bit -- almost sandbagging. Then they gained steam, letting the opponent hang around until the six-minute mark of the second half, when they took the game away from the Red Storm, a team that had set its sights on Indianapolis.

By the time Casey Calvary hit two free throws with 6: 03 remaining, giving the Bulldogs a 63-56 lead, the St. John's plans were already shot, starting with the point at which Gonzaga took its first lead on a Ryan Floyd three-pointer with 17: 49 left.

That moment didn't seem possible in the game's early moments, when the Red Storm seemed on its way to dominating. But after Floyd's shot, the teams exchanged the lead six times and tied three times before Matt Santangelo, who had 26 points and five assists, scored five straight points to start a 9-2 run, including a 25-foot trey that gave Gonzaga a 59-54 lead, its largest at the time.

"I'm very proud of the way this team has handled adversity in both of our games here," said first-year Gonzaga coach Mark Few, one of the few apparent differences between this year and last, when the Bulldogs beat Minnesota, Stanford and Florida before losing to UConn. "We were tentative early on, then they changed their frame of mind to more of an attack mode."

The Bulldogs had trouble with St. John's in the game's early minutes, falling behind 10-4 as Lavor Postell and Anthony Glover found clear shots inside.

Gonzaga had been relying on perimeter shots over the first five minutes, and its luck only began to change once the ball went inside.

With Calvary and Axel Dench out, reserves Mark Spink and Zach Gourde were the ones making the impact. Calvary and Dench went on to combine for 30 points and 13 rebounds the rest of the game.

Dench had 12 of his 17 in the first half, including a three-footer off the glass that cut St. John's lead to 18-17 with 8: 43 left, and Gonzaga's deficit would be 36-33 at halftime, the same small margin it took into halftime against Louisville.

"The big daddy [Dench] was huge today," Santangelo said.

"He kept us in it early, and it was also nice because we had an inside-outside combination."

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