The mood was electric. The crowd was ready to jump out of their seats at even the slightest development, led by the large and vocal student section that occupied the lower half of the seating bowl. As the national cameras rolled something else became apparent... fear was in the air. Beyond the bravado and the pride that come with sustained success, little hints of doubt were creeping in the shadows. By halftime the Bulldogs were clinging to a three point lead and I can't recall how many times I overheard conversations in the stands beginning with "I'm worried about this game." Eleven years of conference dominance could have easily died on this night right around the stroke of midnight. A small smattering of St. Mary's fans had gathered in one of the furthest, highest corners of the gym looking solemnly hopeful; not wanting to cheer too loudly so as not to rankle the karmic basketball gods. The second half was a continuation of the Pangos versus Dellavedova show. Gonzaga would pull away with some timely baskets and the mostly relieved crowd could finally breathe a sigh of relief. There would be no new conference champion on this night, a stay of execution had been granted by the governor.
For years I've tried to understand how a small Jesuit university in eastern Washington state could seemingly rise out of the abyss and capture the national basketball imagination. Likewise for years I've tried to get myself here to see things firsthand. The first thing I was struck by was the line of students camped out for tickets, not unlike something that could be seen on the campus of Duke University. The difference being the weather here is brutally much harsher than Raleigh Durham. While these passionate student fans certainly have a huge effect on the game I wondered: what came first, the success or the passionate fans. It's probably a little of both that grows and grows over time.
Gonzaga finds itself in a strange "tweener" state, not quite major conference material but having outgrown the metrics we use to define mid-major. Proponents of the power conferences see the world as a place were teams exist in a sort of stasis. The best and most well funded programs are grouped together. They argue that only they are worthy of extensive media coverage and massive television contracts. Beneath the surface and over the course of time the fortunes of programs are actually rising and falling. What's on one side of the redline may not be tomorrow.
After I returned home I turned on the the television and flipped through the channels. CBS was airing live golf coverage and stopped to give a college basketball update. Greg Gumbel proceeded to recap the action in the Atlantic 10 and Horizon League, complete with highlights, before returning to the greens.
at GONZAGA 73, SAINT MARY'S 59 02/09/2012
SAINT MARY'S 22-3 (11-1) -- M. Dellavedova 5-12 8-8 20; S. Holt 0-4 0-0 0; R. Jones 4-11 0-2 8; J. Page 4-9 1-2 11; B. Waldow 5-8 0-1 10; C. Steindl 1-4 0-0 3; M. Young 2-6 2-2 6; K. Walker II 0-1 0-0 0; K. Rowley 0-0 1-2 1; B. Levesque 0-0 0-0 0; T. Williams 0-0 0-0 0; E. Petrulis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-55 12-17 59. GONZAGA 19-4 (9-2) -- G. Bell Jr. 4-6 2-3 12; R. Sacre 5-9 2-4 12; K. Pangos 8-16 6-6 27; E. Harris 5-8 0-0 10; D. Stockton 0-1 0-0 0; G. Landry Edi 2-4 0-4 4; S. Dower 4-8 0-0 8; M. Keita 0-1 0-2 0; M. Carter 0-0 0-0 0; M. Hart 0-0 0-0 0; R. Spangler 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-53 10-19 73.
Three-point goals: SMC 5-21 (R. Jones 0-2; C. Steindl 1-4; J. Page 2-6; M. Dellavedova 2-7; S. Holt 0-2), GONZ 7-15 (S. Dower 0-2; E. Harris 0-2; D. Stockton 0-1; G. Bell Jr. 2-3; G. Landry Edi 0-1; K. Pangos 5-6); Rebounds: SMC 26 (R. Jones 7), GONZ 36 (E. Harris 10); Assists: SMC 11 (M. Dellavedova 4), GONZ 14 (D. Stockton 5); Total Fouls -- SMC 17, GONZ 18; Fouled Out: SMC-None; GONZ-None.