With the NCAA Tournament right around the corner, this seems like a great time to continue our "positive vibes" movement here and reminisce about some of the great postseason moments for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. The past decade and some have been remarkable for this once nationally unknown program. Many players in the past ten years have gone down as legends and everyone has their favorite Gonzaga moment. For me, there is really no reason to go too far back into the past as one of the all-time best moments happened just a season ago. Playing in Portland, Gonzaga entered the 2009 NCAA Tournament as a four seed after absolutely dominating the West Coast Conference tournament. After getting a stiff test from Akron in the opening round, the Zags narrowly advanced to the second round where they met Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers were a popular sleeper pick a season ago and had dominated five seed Illinois in their opening round match up. The game would be hotly contested throughout but, on arguably Gonzaga's most talented and veteran-laden team, it was their youngest contributor that stepped up when it mattered most.
continue reading after the jump to reminisce about Gonzaga-WKU...
The atmosphere in Portland was, without a doubt, very pro-Pacific Northwest. Both Gonzaga and Washington earned spots in the Portland region so there was no shortage of Zag and Husky fans in the city. The Gonzaga contingent was especially loud and proud as this team had been outstanding all year long, save for a few hiccups in December. Max and I drove down to the game with high hopes that this experience at the NCAA Tournament would be a little more positive than our last. We were in Oakland for the 2006 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 which pitted Gonzaga against UCLA. That's all I will say about that game.
Back to a more happy and recent memory. Gonzaga was stacked. Austin Daye, Jeremy Pargo, Micah Downs, Josh Heytvelt, and Matt Bouldin made up Mark Few's starting lineup. The Hilltoppers also had a solid amount of talent. Their backcourt was extremely dangerous as A.J. Slaughter and Orlando Mendez-Valdez could score from anywhere on the court...literally. The key for the Zags was to have their backcourt combo of Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin play at an equal level to WKU and all would be good for the Bulldogs. This proved to be the difference.
Pargo and Bouldin rose to the occasion all game long. Matt finished with 20 points, eight rebounds, and six assists against WKU and Pargo went 7-11 from the floor with 18 points. They both controlled the game on offense with their size and were making plays all over the court. As a team, however, Gonzaga struggled. Although they held the lead through a majority of the game, they were never able to make enough plays to put the Hilltoppers away and every Bulldog fan was thinking "here we go again". The start of the second half was crucial for Mark Few's club. Western Kentucky carried a two point lead into halftime but Pargo and Bouldin came out hot and put Gonzaga up six right out of the gate. It was the front court for the 'Toppers that kept them in it as they continued to battle and keep the game tight.
The Zags held a seven point lead with two minutes remaining but if you were in the building, you knew the game was nowhere near over. Steven Gray and Matt Bouldin both turned the ball over late in the game and before you knew it, the Hilltoppers were within two points. Bouldin missed a jumper with a half minute left and the stage was set for more Gonzaga heartbreak. It was the worst secret in the world that WKU was going to get the ball to their backcourt duo. Slaughter came off a screen and got a pretty good look but it rimmed out. Steffphon Pettigrew was right there for the Hilltoppers, however, and made a dramatic tip in with seven seconds remaining. Everyone was on their feet in the Rose Garden as Gonzaga rushed to get one last shot. Demetri Goodson, who was in for his defensive abilities, got the ball and streaked down the court. When he noticed defenders peeling away from him to guard Matt Bouldin, he took the running jumper. With 0.9 seconds, the ball left Goodson's hand and dropped in to give Gonzaga the 83-81 advantage. The arena exploded as Western Kentucky rushed the ball in and failed to get off a shot attempt.
The freshman Goodson was mauled by his teammates as Mark Few exhorted the crowd behind him. Jeremy Pargo, who had become Meech's mentor, latched on to Goodson and never seemed to let go. The Zags continued to celebrate long after time wound down as a tremendous collapse was over. We wrote in our game recap last year that Gonzaga was saved by the freshman because he hadn't been tainted by tournament's gone wrong in the past. The Zags went on to play North Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen in Memphis and that obviously didn't turn out well but no one was stopping Carolina that year. Regardless, Goodson's shot has gone down in Gonzaga history as "The Runner, part two". No one will ever be able to take away that moment from the freshman and that team and it just goes to prove that, literally, every second counts in March.