The final score may have been Gonzaga Bulldogs 79 and the Northwestern Wildcats 73, but there was much more at stake than the final score. True, the number one seeded Bulldogs defeated an eighth seeded Wildcats at Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City, Utah. However, the furious second-half comeback by Northwestern indicated that they were not overwhelmed by the moment and the Wildcats are nearly ready for prime time.
Northwestern Wildcats Nearly Ready for Prime Time in Close Loss to Gonzaga Bulldogs in NCAA Tournament
Northwestern coach Chris Collins has brought the Wildcats a long way in only his fourth season. First, his team won a Northwestern record 24 games this season. Second, Collins guided his team to its first NCAA tournament in 78 years. And third, Collins guided his team to a first round victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores. Today’s loss was Northwestern’s first loss in NCAA tournament history.
In the loss against the Bulldogs, the Wildcats were initially dominated by Gonzaga and found themselves down 18 points at half time. It seemed that Northwestern was going to be outclassed and blown out by a NCAA tournament regular and prove that the Wildcats were not quite ready for prime time.
The Wildcats Came Alive in the Second Half
However, the Wildcats came alive in the second half. Bryant Macintosh scored 13 of his 20 points. Vic Law scored 15 of his 18 points. In addition, Northwestern played better defense against the Bulldogs’ guards. Law brought the Wildcats within five points at 63-58.
Missed Goaltending Call
Then, in what ended up the turning point of the game, Dererk Pardon went to dunk the ball and the Bulldogs’ Zach Collins clearly reached through the net and deflected the ball out. The referees missed the obvious goaltending call and Collins rushed the court. Collins drew a technical foul. It ended up a four point swing and instead of being down three points, the Wildcats were down seven points. The Bulldogs went on to finish out the game and qualify for the Sweet Sixteen.
It was a heartbreaking way for the upstart Wildcats to lose in their first NCAA tournament. However, the comeback showed that the Wildcats are nearly ready for prime time and should return to the tournament more frequently.
NCAA Acknowledges Mistake in Missed Call
In fairness to Northwestern, the NCAA issued a statement acknowledging the call was missed. When Collins was asked about the statement, he stated ruefully, “I appreciate the apology…it makes me feel great.” The Wildcats appear ready to stay on the main stage and should be a far more common entrant into the NCAA tournament each year.