How Sweet It Is!!
March 18, 2000
TUCSON, Ariz. - Those tournament darlings from Gonzaga sure aren't one-year wonders.
The Bulldogs advanced to the NCAA regional semifinals for the second straight year, stunning second-seeded St. John's 82-76 on Saturday night behind 26 points from Matt Santangelo.
Gonzaga, which made an amazing run to the West Regional final a year ago as the No. 10 seed, shouldn't be considered a sleeper anymore.
"We're still fighting for respect," Santangelo said. "Any label you put on us means we're still playing and we're still winning. That's what counts right now."
First-year coach Mark Few hugged his players, who gathered at midcourt after the final buzzer, and they waved to their fans who traveled all the way from Spokane, Wash., for the weekend.
"I am so happy for these kids right now," Few said. "They have worked their entire basketball careers, and this is a great thing for them right now. These guys came through when the lights were on bright."
But after having toppled No. 2 seed Stanford a year ago, the Bulldogs didn't stage a wild celebration that many lower-seeded teams do after a major upset.
"When we are old and retired we will look back and get amazed at what we've done," said Richie Frahm, who scored all 10 of his points in the second half after getting 31 in the opener against Louisville. "It took until last summer to realize what we did last year. We don't plan on going home anytime soon."
The Bulldogs (26-8) will play sixth-seeded Purdue, which beat No. 3 Oklahoma
66-62 earlier Saturday in a wide-open West Regional. The top three seeds all
fell Saturday, with Wisconsin beating No. 1 Arizona 66-59 in Salt Lake City.
St. John's (25-8), with its highest seeding since being a No. 1 in the West in 1986, finished a turmoil-ridden season with a disappointing loss.
"We were so souped up about getting to the Final Four that this really hurts," Chudney Gray said. "They made all the shots they needed to. Whenever they needed one, Santangelo hit it. We didn't get the stops we usually get."
The Red Storm overcame a pair of suspensions to leading scorer Erick Barkley and an investigation just this week into Barkley and teammate Lavor Postell.
But St. John's couldn't overcome Gonzaga's efficient offense and effective zone defense that kept the Red Storm at bay.
Santangelo made 6-of-10 3-pointers, including three in the final eight minutes as the Bulldogs pulled away from a 54-54 tie to take control.
"We had a lot of success against their zone so they started to go man-to-man on us," Santangelo said. "That opened up a lot of things on the perimeter for us. I started to get off some screens and get open looks. The other guys did a good job of getting me the ball and I took it from there."
Santangelo added five assists and played all 40 minutes, controlling the ball against a swarming St. John's press. After committing 24 turnovers in a first-round win over Louisville, Gonzaga had just 10 against the Red Storm.
"Matt did a fabulous job tonight," Few said. "He had his thumb right on the tempo of the game. If he wanted to push it, then we pushed it. If he wanted to run the halfcourt offense, we did that."
Barkley led St. John's with 21 points and Anthony Glover added 18. Bootsy Thornton, who had topped 20 points in seven of his last nine games, was held to 12 on 3-of-13 shooting.
"I think they've got a really good chance of going to (the Final Four)," St. John's coach Mike Jarvis said. "There is a time and a place for everything and maybe this is theirs. It wasn't meant for us. Maybe it's meant for Gonzaga."
The turmoil hadn't affected Barkley or St. John's, which had won 12 of 13 games since the first suspension on Feb. 3 before falling to Gonzaga.
Barkley hit a 3-pointer to tie it at 54 with 10:19 left. But he missed two free throws that could have given St. John's the lead two minutes later.
Gonzaga went on a 9-2 run to take the lead for good, with Santangelo's 3-pointer as the shot clock wound down making it 59-54.
The Red Storm got off to a quick start in the first half and looked like they would make it back to the round of 16 for the second straight year.
They held Gonzaga's two leading scorers - Frahm and Calvary - to just one point and led 34-25 on a driving layup off the glass by Barkley with 4:52 to play.
The Bulldogs then went on a 8-2 run to end the half, highlighted by Mark Spink's flying dunk over Gray.
By JOSH DUBOW
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