Newest `Cinderella' Nevada steals slipper from Gonzaga, 91-72

Stepp, second seeds go cold as Wolf Pack soundly ends Zags' 21-game win streak

Ncaa Regional St. Louis

March 21, 2004|By Robyn Norwood | Robyn Norwood,LOS ANGELES TIMES

SEATTLE - So this is how it feels.

Gonzaga was finally the big dog, but the big dog is going home and 10th-seeded Nevada is in the Sweet 16 after a 91-72 upset of the second-seeded Zags, the Cinderellas of so many years past.

It wasn't even close.

Gonzaga guard Blake Stepp missed shot after shot, going 3-for-18.

"Short, long, in-and-out," said Stepp, just 1-for-12 from three-point range in his final NCAA game. "It definitely doesn't feel good to go out like this. We had a good season, but right now it doesn't feel like it."

The Zags (28-3) - who came in with a 21-game winning streak, losing only to No. 1 seeds Stanford and St. Joseph's - had trouble outside, and they had trouble inside.

Ronny Turiaf, Gonzaga's other NBA prospect, picked up his second foul 2 1/2 minutes into the game and his fourth two minutes into the second half, playing a mere 15 minutes.

"There's a whole lot of disbelief in this room," senior Richard Fox said. "Even down by 15 at the last media timeout, we were talking about coming back to win the game."

But that was it for seniors Stepp, Kyle Bankhead and Tony Skinner - and maybe for Turiaf, a junior who must ponder whether to turn pro after such a disappointing finale.

It was over almost before it began.

Nevada (25-8) leaped ahead by 14 less than nine minutes into the game on consecutive three-pointers by Todd Okeson, the Kansas farm boy who finished with 19 points, three three-pointers, seven assists and only one turnover.

Before halftime, the lead reached 20, though Gonzaga cut it to 15 before the buzzer.

"The surprising thing was being up by so much," Okeson said. "We knew coming in it would go down to the last possession and we'd have to execute late in the game."

The game wasn't only about Gonzaga's shortcomings.

Nevada - a school that had never won an NCAA tournament game before this season and hadn't even appeared in the tournament in 19 years - was very, very good.

For much of the game, it was the boyish-looking Okeson - not 6-foot-6 NBA prospect Kirk Snyder - who led the way.

There also was a huge contribution from Kevinn Pinkney, the jumping-jack forward who had 20 points and eight rebounds and a resounding dunk on an alley-oop pass from Snyder on an inbounds play.

The Wolf Pack repelled every Gonzaga comeback, never letting it get closer than eight in the second half.

They kept the pedal to the metal, too, with Pinkney dunking off a three-on-one break for a 14-point lead with 1:52 left, just when coach Trent Johnson might have wanted them to use some clock.

Or consider Snyder, who finished with 18 points, nine rebounds and six assists. With 30 seconds left, he jacked up a three-pointer, and sank it.

It was a particularly gut-wrenching end for Stepp, who passed NBA great John Stockton for second on the school assist list the previous game. He knew after the first round his shot needed work.

Stepp was 2-for-11 in the Zags' first-round victory over Valparaiso, and stopped on the way back from the interview room Thursday night to shoot baskets, even as a school official tried to hurry him on.

"I have to find my shot," he said.

He never did, ending his career 23-for-94 (24.5 percent) in NCAA tournament games. His career shooting stats entering the tournament were 42.3 percent overall and 39 percent from three-point range. "You always think every shot he takes is going in," Fox said. "He's Mr. Clutch. I don't care what anybody says."

Garry Thomas-Hill did much of the defensive work on Stepp, much as Nick Fazekas helped get Turiaf in foul trouble inside.

"You can't believe it," Snyder said. "I mean, Sweet 16. I can't explain how that feels. ... It's incredible."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

NEVADA - Pinkney 9-13 2-4 20, Fazekas 4-12 7-9 16, Snyder 5-11 4-4 18, Okeson 7-14 2-2 19, Hill-Thomas 3-4 4-4 10, Kemp 1-6 0-0 2, Washington 1-2 1-2 3, Paul 0-2 3-4 3. Totals 30-64 23-29 91. GONZAGA - Turiaf 6-10 1-3 13, Bankhead 1-2 0-0 2, Violette 8-21 0-2 16, Stepp 3-18 6-7 13, Knight 0-1 0-0 0, Morrison 5-9 4-4 14, Skinner 2-5 0-0 5, Ravio 0-1 0-0 0, Mallon 3-7 2-2 9, Fox 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-75 13-18 72. Half: Nevada, 47-32. 3-point goals-Nevada 8-17 (Snyder 4-7, Okeson 3-6, Fazekas 1-2, Kemp 0-1, Pinkney 0-1), Gonzaga 3-22 (Mallon 1-2, Skinner 1-3, Stepp 1-12, Ravio 0-1, Violette 0-1, Morrison 0-3). Fouled out-None. Rebounds-Nevada 46 (Fazekas 10), Gonzaga 39 (Violette 11). Assists-Nevada 18 (Okeson 7), Gonzaga 9 (Stepp 5). Total fouls-Nevada 18, Gonzaga 23. A-15,827.

Regional highlights

Top performer: Nevada forward Kevinn Pinkney scored 20 points (9-for-13). Big surprise: Tenth-seeded Nevada, in the tournament for the first time in 19 years, advanced to the Sweet 16. He said it: "It feels as if someone took your life away almost. This is all we've got, this is all I've got -- basketball. We can't play anymore." -- Gonzaga forward Adam Morrison

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