SAN JOSE, Calif. — Whether through tears or vacant stares, West Virginia players replayed how and why their season had ended.
The clearest turning point was right there, a sequence that defined and decided Gonzaga 61, West Virginia 58 in a Sweet 16 rumble.
For all the giant cedars and sky-scraping firs lining Gonzaga’s rotation, a 6-foot-3 kid proved most difficult to shoot over.
Josh Perkins, having blocked five shots all season, swatted away No. 6 with a roundhouse swipe they’ll loop in Spokane for years to come.
Where did such a defensive eraser come from? Nathan Adrian would sure like to know.
The hometown senior presumed the layup was all his, a quick chance to make up for Daxter Miles missing two free throws with 1:08 to play. The relentless Jevon Carter had tipped the rebound away from Nigel Williams-Goss and Adrian grabbed it, pushed down one power dribble and went straight up.
West Virginia’s 58-57 lead surely would expand … only Adrian never saw Perkins zipping from behind.
And Gonzaga never suspected its point guard would become rim-protector in a season-saving crisis.
Over 29 foul-inhibited minutes Thursday, Perkins didn’t hoist a single shot. The Zags only care about the one he batted down.
Within a lightspeed of five seconds, Perkins’ block became an outlet, which became a Jordan Mathews 3 on the opposite end. Suddenly, stunningly, Gonzaga went ahead 60-58 and regained last-minute leverage.
Miles’ free throw “bounced off the hoop,” explained Perkins, “and it was either me make a play or they go up three.
“At that point I’m just thankful the legs were with me on that one. I just got up a little bit higher than I ever got before and blocked it. That was definitely instinct, it was either block him or foul him, make him earn it at the free-throw line.”
Some questioned whether Perkins actually did foul Adrian. Wild-swinging arms can spark refs to anticipate fouls whether they occur or not, and Thursday’s crew certainly delivered a few phantoms in calling 51 infractions.
After several replay viewings, however, Perkins’ defense appeared clean to me. And Adrian didn’t raise the issue during locker room interviews.
“Great play on Jevon’s part to keep the ball alive,” he said, “but I just didn’t see the guy coming.”
No one saw the guy coming.
That’s how this month of madness proceeds — trashing trends and confounding conventional wisdom. On the same floor two hours later, 11th-seeded Xavier used a 9-0 closing flurry to overtake Arizona 73-71.
By that juncture, Perkins and the Zags knew their opponent for the Elite Eight, and the Mountaineers knew how close they came to being there instead.