I'm sorry it took me so long to get to my final blog of the trip. It's not always easy to balance the television side of my job and my online duties. I wish I could say I'm really good at multi-tasking, but that's just not the case.
Today was a major disappointment. In my previous blog, I mentioned how I thought Gonzaga had a chance against top-seeded Syracuse...that obviously wasn't the case. The Bulldogs focused on two things in their preparation for the Orange...they wanted to slow down their transition offense and they hoped to crack the Syracuse 2x3 zone.
It looked good early (at least on the offensive end). The Bulldogs pounded the rock inside to Elias Harris and Robert Sacre to loosen up the Syracuse 2x3 zone. In fact, that's the only thing that worked all day. The two (who appeared to be the only ones who showed up on Sunday) combined for 41 of Gonzaga's 65 points. Once the defense focused on the big guys, it was up to the shooters to take care of the rest.
At this point we know what DIDN'T happen...the shooters were terrible. Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, and Demetri Goodson (it's a stretch to call him a shooter) were a combined 6-for-29 (20%) from the field. The Bulldogs (as a team...not just those three) shot just 14% from three-point range. Matt Bouldin told me after the game that the focus shouldn't be on the poor shooting, instead it should be on the lack of making stops (making the point that even when you're cold you can win if you play solid defense).
That also DIDN'T happen. Gonzaga had a difficult time slowing the Orange down. Wes Johnson scored a career-high 31 points, while Andy Rautins ignited for 24 points (he scored 11 straight points for Syracuse to start the second half). The Orange shot 60% in the first half and finished the game at 55%. They made 12 three-pointers...a new school record in an NCAA Tournament game.
Here are some pictures I snapped before and during the game: pregame warmups from press level, pregame warmups from media row, Steven Gray getting introduced before the game, first half action, the start of the second half (I realized no one wanted to see more pictures after that).
The locker room was a sad place after the game. I've never seen Matt Bouldin so down. One of the greatest players to ever suit up for the Zags, Bouldin did not perform well in his final game. He was just 3-of-12 from the field, including 0-for-6 from three-point range. I was a little harsh on Bouldin on Twitter throughout the game (and I know I'm not the only one), but I realized how much that game really meant to him after I talked to him after the game. He just didn't seem to have much of a pulse during the game.
I really thought Mark Few would play senior Will Foster as a courtesy late in the game, especially because the game was out of reach early in the second half. Instead, Foster sat on the end of the bench and never saw the floor. I was confused why he was left on the bench so I asked Will why he thought he didn't play. This was his answer:
"Me and Coach Few have been butting heads, so that's probably why I didn't see the floor. I don't know why P-Maag (senior walk-on Chris Pontoralo-Maag) didn't. That's disrespectful to him. He's a senior that's thrown so much into this program."
Foster added a little bit more to the conversation, but I'd rather not pass along what he said (he's a college kid who got heated in the moment).
I know the loss is disappointing (I wish I was heading to Salt Lake City next week), but you have to admit that it was a good season for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs, with 11 freshmen and sophomores on the roster, finished 27-7 on the season. A lot of people didn't even think they'd make the NCAA Tournament, instead they were bounced in the second round. I'd say they exceeded my expectations. I'm glad they did! It was a fun season.
If Syracuse plays like they did on Sunday for the rest of the tournament, it's very possible that the Bulldogs were ousted by the eventual national champion for the second straight year (they were knocked out by North Carolina in the Sweet 16 last year).
As far as Buffalo...I'm not sad to be leaving. I hope I never have to come back to this city for any reason. I would have to be forced to travel here again. Don't get me wrong...I'm lucky that I was sent here to cover the tournament (I'm truly blessed to have the job that I do), but the city was never able to erase my negative thoughts to begin with (it didn't help that the event was poorly run at the HSBC Arena). Many of the local media members we talked to even said, "We used to be a great city, but..." (I heard that several times). My advice...fly into Toronto if you ever want to go to Niagara Falls. Stay away from Buffalo.
I want to give a shout out to my photographer Brett Allbery. He busted his tail just as much as I did this week, but he didn't get any of the credit. He even tried to summon some magic out of his lucky socks for the game today, but it didn't work.
I also want to thank everyone for following along on this trip (on my blog and on Twitter). I had a blast sharing my experiences with you. I really hope you enjoyed our coverage.
I'll be back in Spokane tomorrow night. I'll see you soon!