That was truly a great college basketball game. There was no air left in the gym by the time Blake Stepp’s jumper caromed off the rim at the end of a thrilling 96-95 double overtime affair. The Arizona Wildcats were left breathless, but exuberant to have survived to advance to the Sweet 16, while the Gonzaga Bulldogs must have felt like they had the wind knocked out of them after deserving a much different ending.
Blake Stepp (8 assists) and Tony Skinner led all scorers with 25 points a piece, the latter achieving a career high while playing all 50 minutes despite playing the game at elevation in Salt Lake City. Skinner was a virtuoso in the first half, and it was his short jumper off the backboard at the buzzer in regulation that sent the game into overtime and allowed Gonzaga fans to continue dreaming of an upset over an Arizona team that was ranked #1 for the majority of the season.
Ronny Turiaf notched 16 points and 5 rebounds before fouling out with nearly two minutes left in regulation. With his team’s back against he wall, Richard Fox stepped up in a big way with 13 crucial points off the bench while tasked with defending Arizona’s Channing Frye. All five Arizona starters scored in double figures, led by Frye who finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds. Luke Walton stuffed the box score with 16 points, 9 assists, 6 rebounds, 3 steals, 2 blocks, and the leaner with four seconds left in OT to push the game to a second OT period.
Even though neither team scored in the final two minutes of the game, they were just as fraught with tension as the 48 that preceded them. Maybe it was the elevation that got them in the end, or perhaps all the magic had been spent, but the Zags pushed a team many expected to win the national championship to the absolute brink.
The two squads raced up and down the floor for 50 minutes and entertained the nation with beautiful, fast-paced basketball. Despite Arizona’s top-10 defense, Gonzaga had no trouble finding the bottom of the net as the duo of Skinner and Stepp applied tons of pressure with their perimeter shooting and Turiaf banged inside against Lute Olson’s deep rotation of forwards.
After a late push in the closing minutes of the first half, Gonzaga entered the break with a 44-41 lead that put Arizona on notice that they were not going to have an easy road to the Sweet 16. The Wildcats emerged from halftime hoping to land a quick knockout punch, and looked like they were going to do so after the first few possessions of the half. But the Zags regrouped quickly, helped by Stepp who scored 11 straight points to keep his team on level footing with the favored Wildcats.
Though the Zags pushed and pushed, in the end, they didn’t quite have enough magic to complete the upset bid and punch a ticket to the Sweet 16 against Notre Dame. Despite the loss, however, the performance cemented Gonzaga’s spot as a March Cinderella and left an indelible impression on college basketball fans.