Sorry for the delay in posting the game recap. After that heart-breaker, I took a page out of Crash Mathews book and followed my own rendition of the GU Blues. I started with number 9 (no chick flick though, just a good ol' fashioned cry), I followed that up with number 10 (drink...a lot), done immediately following the cry and into the deep hours of the night. After drinking, I added a new number to the list: #11, I went into hibernation. Hibernation consists of denial, refusal to talk about the game, and lots and lots of sleep. Finally (similar to the 5 stages of grief), I started to accept the loss and moved forward to work on number 7: thinking about the next game, and the next GU victory. Only 3 more days to wait!
I had the fortune (misfortune, perhaps?) of attending this game, and it was definitely one for the ages. It caused a myriad of emotions: hope, elation, devastation, dismay, excitement, frustration, belief, and finally, disbelief, sadness, and shock...and that was all in the final 4.6 seconds of play. It was a series of improbable events. Gonzaga was up by 1 with 4.6 seconds left, Butler got the ball back, had trouble inbounding and was forced to take a timeout. It didn't help, as the second they inbounded, they were called for a travel and turned the ball over to GU with 3.5 seconds left. At that point, the Butler fans around me were quiet - shocked, upset, and sad...but then the place erupted. All Gonzaga had to do to seal the deal was inbound the ball and waste the final 3.5 seconds. Instead, the lob from David Stockton to Kelly Olynyk resulted in a steal, a run down the court, and a last second buzzer beater, awkward shot by Roosevelt Jones. Gonzaga lost. Just like that, the arena erupted. The crowd rushed the court, the fans around me were screaming with jubilation, and simultaneously telling me it was a good game. I had trouble responding, my heart was pounding, my eyes were welling with tears, and my jaw had dropped. It was an improbable loss, one that has been since shown over and over and over again as the top Sports Center play. It is a play that will likely never happen again, a veteran David Stockton unable to connect with the solid Kelly Olynyk. It was a mistake, one that I am not going to fixate on, nor am I going to place blame. It was just a sad ending to a classic game. Had GU not been involved, it easily would have been one of the best games I had ever attended. But that is the curse of a college basketball fan, we CARE about our teams. Our moods are swayed by a win or a loss, and that one HURT. If you can make it through this ramble, then please read on for more about the experience of Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Hinkle Fieldhouse is the 6th oldest college basketball arena still in use. It has a capacity of 10,000 people and was filled to the brim for College Gameday. This historic, US national landmark had over 10,200 people in attendance for the clash of the mid major Bulldogs Saturday night. The Butler fan behind me remarked, "10,200? I guess we are standing room only tonight!" and that definitely was the tone for this game. Butler fans came in droves to see this game. It was a sea of blue, with a small smattering of red GU fans scattered throughout. We were definitely the underdog in terms of attendance and support. As I walked into this historic building, high fiving and stating "Go Zags" to every Gonzaga fan that passed, I knew this would be a tough, hostile road environment. The wooden bleacher seats (yes, wooden, yes, bleacher) gave credence to its age. The arena felt small, it felt like we were literally ON TOP of the court (and the band basically was). You could hear every whistle of the Refs (and they were numerous), every dribble of the ball, the hushed silence of the crowd when GU scored, and the cheers and applause when Butler made a good play. Every time the ball came to my side of the court, the crowd would stand, making it virtually impossible to see what was happening. I have never seen anything like it, and I probably never will again. This arena was a stark contrast to the new modernized arenas, like the MAC, and the KFC Yum! Center where the Louisville Cardinals play. It was uncomfortable and inconvenient. The scoreboard was a throwback, as it said "home" and "guest" rather than being digitized with the names of the two schools competing. This environment truly gave home field advantage to the Butler Bulldogs...but then again, so did the refs.
This game was a dogfight, literally and figuratively, as it pitted the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Butler Bulldogs into a heated battle to prove who was the best Bulldog in the country. Would it be the number 8 Zags or the number 13 Butler Bulldogs who would be victorious? We all know how it turned out, Butler pulled out a thriller at the buzzer....but it hardly showed that they were the "best" Bulldogs in the country. On a neutral court or in the MAC, I would predict a GU win by 10, but in the confines of Hinkle Fieldhouse, Butler had this game wrapped up. The first half was led predominately by Gonzaga. We had the game right where we needed it. We utilized our bigs to our advantage. But the second half was a different story. Butler came to play, and seemed to take advantage of every 50/50 ball. Gonzaga went cold from a shooting standpoint, missing bunnies in the lane, and jump shots. The refs were whistle happy (again, the Butler fans around me were in agreement, as they patted me on the back and said "I know you don't want to hear this, but we are getting some home-cooking tonight"). By our play in the second half, and the foul trouble we were in, I was in disbelief when I looked at the scoreboard to see we were only down by 4. It felt that we should have been down by 10. Our team overcame adversity to tie this game and take the lead in the final seconds, but we just didn't come out with the win.
Our bigs played outstanding, scoring 54 of our 63 points paced by Harris with 20 points and 7 rebounds.
Sam Dower had a breakout game and was virtually unstoppable scoring 20 points and 1 rebound. A sophomore from Butler was astounded by Sam, exclaiming "who is this guy? He can't miss! Why didn't we know about him?". I of course, was more than willing to share my knowledge.
Kelly Olynyk, in one of his lowest scoring games this season, finished with 14 points, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists, but was money at the free throw line making 4 of 5 shots, and all when they counted.
Kevin Pangos did not attempt many shots in this game, as he converted on 2 of 5 attempts, scoring 5 points. However; he was clutch with 6 assists and 2 rebounds.
David Stockton - I know, I know, you all are thinking how can I possibly have David Stockton listed in my pro column? Because, he came in and provided a spark off the bench with his dynamic passing. Again, the family behind me initiated a conversation that went a little like this:
Family - who is that little guy?
Me - David Stockton
Family - Oh John Stockton's son? He is playing exactly how I would have imagined. That pass was flawless! He sure has a good feel for the game, I feel like I am watching his dad!"
***They did however, also mention that they were sure he was too little and would get schooled by more athletic guards (aka Illinois and Brandon Paul)
Yes, Stockton inbounded the pass that led to a Butler steal and ultimate win...but that is one play and doesn't define his game or his career.
Free Throws were decent at 73.3%, converting for 11 of 15 (most of them clutch down the stretch).
Our ball handling was also incredibly impressive this game, as we only had 7 turnovers and forced 12 Butler turnovers.
The play and aggressiveness of the rest of the team. For a team that is boasted as having balance and depth, they relied entirely too much on the play of three players (Kelly, Harris, and Sam).
If you take those three players out, the entire rest of our team (8 other players) only attempted 14 shots and scored 9 combined points.
Shooting: As the number 3 team in the country in field goal percentage at over 53.5%, GU went cold this game and only shot 47.1% fg and 28.6% from the arc.
Every team loses once in a while, in fact this weekend several top 25 teams went down (including #1 Louisville to #6 Syracuse). How a team reacts to that loss, especially a heart-breaker like this one can set the tone for the next game or the rest of the season. Our team is strong, they are united, they are a family and their reaction immediately following the game made me proud to be a Zag. It made me excited for the rest of the season and I know we will be successful in March. They are united, they are determined, and they are ready to prove that one game does not make a season.
Sometimes I think fans take a loss harder than the players do, we have so many emotions invested in our teams. After this loss, I was crushed...I struggled to get out of that arena before I broke into tears. My friends (Louisville fans) just couldn't offer the support or condolences I needed. I had to seek out some fellow Zag fans. As I approached a group of random GU fans while yelling "I need Gonzaga love!", I was welcomed into the fold with open arms. Gonzaga fans are in my opinion, the best fans in the country. They provide that same type of unity the players exhibited, we rally around each other and our team. These random strangers hugged me and said "It's okay, we will be alright. You wanna know why we will be alright? Because we are going to Atlanta, and that is all that matters. The season isn't over, we will see you in Atlanta!". And you know what? They were right. Our team is strong, they are balanced, they have depth and most importantly they act like a team. This team isn't full of egos, they are unselfish and play the game as a team. One loss isn't going to kill us, heck, we only have two on the season.
So everyone, I bid you adieu...and I will see you all in Atlanta as we cheer on our Zags in our quest for the Final 4 (or beyond).