The bracket in the West Regional suddenly looks wide-open, given No. 1 Gonzaga’s struggle to beat Southern in its opener and losses by No. 3 New Mexico and No. 5 Wisconsin.
No. 6 Arizona is heavily favored to defeat No. 14 Harvard on Saturday, but coach Sean Miller insists the Wildcats haven’t notice the turmoil among the teams seeded ahead of them.
“No seed matters,” he said. “It’s about Arizona being at its very best — doing the things we do the best we can and being ready to go. We know we have to play a great game [against Harvard]. If anything less than that happens, we’ll be going home.”
Don’t call us Cinderella
When asked if he considers his 27-win Wichita State Shockers a “Cinderella” team, redshirt freshman Ron Baker gave an appropriate answer.
“To me, it’s just an opinion to somebody else, really, if they call us a Cinderella team,” he said. “You can call us whatever you want. We’re just trying to get as far in the tournament as we can and just play every game as hard as we can.”
Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall was a bit more receptive to the idea, but said that the majority of mid-major programs are no longer Cinderellas.
He pointed to Gonzaga, now the No. 1 team in the country, Butler, George Mason and VCU as programs who have emerged from the dust of being labeled a Cinderella.
“It’s a five-step process,” he said, “and we’re on step one. Beating Gonzaga would possibly elevate us to step three.”
NCAA Tournament officials say 3,000 tickets remain for Saturday’s Arizona-Harvard and Gonzaga-Wichita State games at EnergySolutions Arena.
The lower bowl is sold out. The remaining tickets are upper bowl only. They can be purchased at the arena box office or online at Smithstix.com.
More tickets are likely available on the secondary market following the departure of some fans from New Mexico, Pitt, Belmont and Southern, whose teams lost on Thursday.
On Thursday, the opening session of the West Regional featured Gonzaga’s 64-58 win over Southern and Wichita State’s 73-55 rout of Pittsburgh. It drew a crowd of 12,621.
The evening session crowd of 14,345 watched Arizona’s 81-64 win over Belmont and Harvard’s 68-62 upset of New Mexico.
Pangos is clutch
With his performance down the stretch against Southern, Gonzaga guard Kevin Pangos is making a reputation for himself as a clutch competitor who comes up big when the stakes are at its highest.
During Friday’s news conferences, the sophomore found himself mentioned with some of the great Bulldogs guards past, like Matt Santangelo, Jeremy Pargo and Blake Stepp.
“It’s an honor,” Pangos said. “A lot of those guys are still around the program. I came to Gonzaga because they’ve had so many great guards in the past. I want to continue some of the things they’ve started.”
Friends in high places
Harvard’s players got plenty of phone calls, text messages and tweets after winning the first NCAA Tournament game in school history.
The school’s famous alumni and supporters came out in droves to offer support. Houston Rockets guard Jeremy Lin spoke with some of his old teammates and coach Tommy Amaker said he got a call from another important Crimson figure.
“I did get a call from the president,” Amaker said and paused, “… the president of Harvard.”
“I should have left it like that and let you run with it,” Amaker joked with reporters Friday.
Remember Alcindor? Shockers do
The last time Wichita State played the No. 1 team in the nation? Try Dec. 8, 1967 in Los Angeles, Calif., against the UCLA Bruins and Lew Alcindor (who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
UCLA defeated Wichita State 120-86 that night, and the Bruins went on to defeat North Carolina to win the NCAA title that season.
The Shockers get their first chance in 45 years Saturday at EnergySolutions Arena, when they take on the No. 1-ranked Bulldogs.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity,” said Marshall. “Not only are they the No. 1 seed in our region and it’s the third round of the NCAA Tournament, but they’re the No. 1 team in the country.”
Gonzaga’s Elias Harris struggled against Southern, scoring just five points and not shooting well from the field. He knows that can’t happen on Saturday against Wichita State if the Bulldogs are going to have a good chance to beat the Shockers.
“I just have to keep fighting,” Harris said. “Yesterday wasn’t the game I wanted to have, but I’m mature enough to know I have to keep attacking and rebounding.”
No sleep ’til Atlanta
Harvard might just be one of the best-prepared teams for the NCAA Tournament’s grueling schedule.
Ivy League teams play every Friday during the conference schedule, and follow that up with a game on Saturday.
“We’re used to this in the Ivy League — Friday, Saturday, back-to-back,” senior Christian Webster said. “So it’s nothing new for us.”
Reporters Tony Jones, Steve Luhm, Chris Kamrani and Aaron Falk contributed to this story.