Final Four: Three First-Timers (Sort Of) and a Blue Blood

27 March, 2017, 00:58 | Author: Felix Jensen

Until Saturday's 83-59 win over Xavier, that meant being locked out of the Final Four for the entire history of the program. Because while OR aren't exactly a Pac-12 OR national powerhouse, there's been a very big change in Eugene, and not just in football. "It's been a long, hard journey to get this program here". Game time is TBA.

It is impossible to underplay the historic meaning of that accomplishment, even in the wake of this program's remarkable 18-year climb up the college basketball ladder. And each year we got better and better, and they we got really good.

The shortcomings in the past have been diverse but always painful. The key for the Zags was the team's three-point shooting, as they shot an unstoppable 61.5% from deep in the first half. In 2015, the No. 2-seeded Zags were better on the defensive end than many realized at the time, but they nonetheless were at their best on the offensive end (and unable to fully hide brilliant scorer Kyle Wiltjer from matchup exploitation on the other end).

The jeers were immediate: "Frauds!"

Members of the US soccer team came onto the court at halftime of the West Regional final to be recognized, a day after their 6-0 win over Honduras in World Cup qualifying.

"Everybody was asking me, 'Is this your best team?' in November". "Its not fair. It's not fair in December, it's not fair in January".

As you can imagine, head coach Mark Few was overjoyed.

It was the third crack at Final Four immortality for the Zags and as they say, third time's a charm.

Gonzaga, which almost went unbeaten this season before dropping its February 25 regular-season finale to BYU, won both the West Coast Conference's regular season and tournament titles on their way to earning a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

It reached its sports pinnacle with minimal incident on Saturday.

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Not this time. Saturday was the Dogs' day.

Williams-Goss then hit a floater in the lane and J.P. Macura followed with an 80-foot shot that banked in, but was ruled too late after an officials' review. Officials waived it off by a fraction of a second.

Gonzaga made just four 3-pointers all game in the Sweet 16 win over West Virginia. Within 15 years, the school opened up a sparkling, $25-million, 6,000-seat arena, chartering flights for road games and recruiting trips.

Creighton defeated Xavier in the semifinals of the Big East Tournament, 75-72, but Xavier had picked up three much-needed wins in a row just before narrowly getting knocked out.

Against Gonzaga, however, the Musketeers never got traction. NWG doesn't make a lot of mistakes in the game, and he is the cog that has kept this Gonzaga machine running so well. Repeatedly. Gonzaga shot 12-of-24 from 3, and that was the difference in the game.

OR had been to three Elite Eights since the expansion (2002, 2007, 2016), but came up short each time. When he touched the ball in the post, double and triple teams flooded his direction. Against Oregon, the well went dry and Frank Mason, Josh Jackson, and Devonte Graham could not find the answer elsewhere on the floor. Karnowski finished with just five points and three rebounds, and it didn't matter. From an eye-test perspective they're a better team than their record shows. "He knows where everybody on his team is".

The West Coast Conference player of the year has made just 2 of 7 shots with no assists to start the West Regional final against Xavier.

Hachimura admitted that he had not realized how big of a deal it was to make it to the Final Four right before the Elite Eight contest.

And, of course, a man who could have chased other jobs, and chased players like these, but who saw the grass was already green - a man who built a plucky mid-major underdog into one a program capable of something like Saturday night.

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