March Madness always delivers. This time, that delivery came in the form of Demetri Goodson streaking through the Western Kentucky defense before knocking in a short jumper off the glass with under a second left to play to secure an 83-81 win for the Gonzaga Bulldogs in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
All five Gonzaga starters scored in double figures, led by Matt Bouldin’s 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists. Jeremy Pargo had 18 points and 3 assists. Micah Downs finished with 12 points and 7 rebounds, while Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt had 10 points apiece. Steven Gray (7 points), Ira Brown (2 points), and Goodson (4) points each scored off the bench.
Gonzaga watched Orlando Mendez-Valdez scorch the defense from the three-point line where he shot 7-10 en route to 25 points. AJ Slaughter had 24 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals in an all-around performance. Jeremy Evans finished with 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 blocks.
The Gonzaga offense looked sharp from the outset, as Daye opened up the scoring with a confident three from the wing and added a mid-range jumper a few possessions later. Pargo sliced up the Hilltopper defense, finding little resistance against their halfcourt scheme to set up his teammates for easy looks or finish it himself.
Neither defense was able to cause the opposing offense too much trouble, however, as Mendez-Valdez, along with Slaughter, went nuclear to keep the Hilltoppers in lock step with the Zags, hitting everything he threw up. A Gonzaga drought during the latter stages of the opening half allowed Western Kentucky to take a narrow 37-35 lead at the break.
Gonzaga started the second half strong, highlighted by a handful of splashy plays from Jeremy Pargo and Micah Downs that helped them re-take the lead. The hot hand of Mendez-Valdez went on ice thanks to some heady play by Bouldin to draw his third foul and force him to the bench right at the beginning of the half.
While the Gonzaga offense was flowing, the defense still struggled to string together an extended run of stops and the Hilltoppers refused to go away, even with Mendez-Valdez relegated to spectator status for several minutes.
The Zags kept plugging away, however, taking a 9-point lead twice after the three minute mark following an acrobatic and-1 lay-in from Pargo that he converted for the three point play and a Heytvelt and-1 on the following possession sandwiched between a WKU three. Gonzaga looked poised to pull away, but alas, no lead is safe in March, particularly when Orlando Mendez-Valdez is launching threes on the other team with reckless abandon.
The Hilltoppers closed the gap once again, setting up a wild finish in the final 24 seconds of the game. With WKU set to have possession, Mark Few substituted Goodson into the game for his defensive prowess. Goodson did his job at the defensive end, helping force an errant jump shot but Steffphon Pettigrew was able to tip in the rebound to tie up the game at 81-81 setting up the dramatic finale.
Western Kentucky failed to put pressure on the in-bounds which allowed Goodson to get a running start on the catch and advance quickly up the floor past a sea of red jerseys before launching into a short running jump shot directing the ball at the backboard and into the rim for the win. The crowd was ecstatic, and so were the Zags, as a stunned Western Kentucky stared in disbelief at the end of their season.