Gonzaga forward Casey Calvary blocks Minnesota guard's Kevin Nathaniel's layup attempt during the Bulldogs first-round victory against the Golden Gophers in the 1999 NCAA Tournament. (Image: Washington Post)
For respective fans of the Minnesota Golden Gophers and the Gonzaga Bulldogs, the first installment of “Thursday Treasures” should evoke vastly different emotions.
For unbiased fans with no dog in the fight, this game should be recognized as not only a fantastic first-round 7-10 game but a historically important marker for the birth of arguably the most consistent mid-major of all time.
Here are the back stories on both programs prior to my breakdown of the game.
Gonzaga Back Story: Before more recent Gonzaga stars Domatas Sabonis, Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos, there were then-unknown Bulldogs named Richie Frahm, Matt Santangelo and Casey Calvary, players who would forever change the course of the program’s history in 1999. And before these players, there was John Stockton, the most famous Gonzaga basketball alum.
Stockton pretty much sums up Gonzaga basketball outside of Spokane before the 1999 NCAA Tournament. The Jesuit school of roughly 5,000 students was known as the alma mater of the Hall of Fame point guard Stockton, still playing at the time for the Utah Jazz.
Now when people think of Gonzaga in 2016, Stockton is hardly alone on that list, with the names of Head Coach Mark Few, NBA bust Adam Morrison, and future pro Dan Dickau just a few to come to mind.
With the passage of time, and transition of Gonzaga from Cinderella mid-major to a media darling power program that has occasionally bordered on unlikeable, the names Frahm, Santangelo and Calvary, and even then-head coach Dan Monson, should be recognized and appreciated by fans young and old.
These were damn good players on a damn fun team to watch for two NCAA Tournaments.
Just to be further clear, historically speaking, Gonzaga in 1999 was not Gonzaga in 2016.
Prior to the 1999 NCAA Tournament, Gonzaga had never won a tourney game. The Bulldogs would win three games that tournament, and two more each in 2000 and 2001.
That’s right. Little Gonzaga would make the Sweet Sixteen three years in a row, with it all beginning with this victory against Minnesota.
The 1999 Bulldogs would run all the way to the Elite Eight and lose in a tight game against eventual national champion UCONN.
While having higher seeds in future tournaments, Gonzaga has reached the Elite Eight only one other time, in 2015. Gonzaga even received a #1 seed in 2013 but lost in the second round to Final Four-bound Wichita State.
Since 1999, the Bulldogs have not missed an NCAA Tournament.
Despite these amazing accomplishments, prior to this 1999 first round game, casual fans were hardly concerned about Gonzaga and more focused on a scandal surrounding the Minnesota basketball program.
Minnesota Back Story: I remember the day of this game like it was yesterday. I was a junior in high school, and all the buzz amongst my friends and even my chemistry teacher was what had just been uncovered about the University of Minnesota men’s basketball program.
On the Wednesday before the Thursday game against Gonzaga, a St. Paul Pioneer Press story indicated that four Minnnesota basketball players – starters Miles Tarver and Kevin Clark and reserves Antoine Broxsie and Jason Stanford – were involved in an academic cheating scandal. Apparently, a woman connected to the program had acknowledged that she had written papers for Minnesota players for years under the regime of Head Coach Clem Haskins. The gory details of the scandal can be found here.
With this news rocking the college basketball world, Minnesota ended up enforcing self-imposed suspensions of the four players heading into the tournament game.
The timing could not have been worse for the Golden Gophers, which had lost in the first round of the 1999 Big Ten Tournament to Illinois, the last-place team in the conference, and had finished with a sub-.500 record (along with Purdue) in the final two months of the 1998-1999 season. And yet the Golden Gophers were one of a then-record seven Big Ten teams, including Purdue, to reach the 1999 NCAA Tournament.
While missing the rebounding big Tarver and the point guard Clark, Minnesota still had two future NBA players on this team: Quincy Lewis, who would be a first-round pick of the Utah Jazz in the 1999 NBA Draft after leading the Big Ten with a 23 points-per-game scoring average, and freshman center Joel Przybilla, who would be a top-10 pick in the woeful 2000 NBA Draft. In contrast, Gonzaga was hardly built around pro prospects, though Richie Frahm would eventually fight his way into the league years after going undrafted in 2000.
Despite being future pros, Lewis and Przybilla had difficult games against Gonzaga. With the team’s depth decimated by the suspensions, Lewis and Przybilla could not afford to have rough games, especially for a team that had been struggling.
And yet, before the scandal, recent years had been a high period for the Minnesota baksetball program. Behind stars Bobby Jackson and Sam Jacobson, role players like Eric Harris, Courtney James and Jon Thomas, and reserves like Lewis and Tarver, Haskins took Minnesota to the 1997 Final Four. As a number-one seed, Minnesota knocked off Clemson in a double-overtime classic in the Sweet Sixteen and then defeated in the Elite Eight a UCLA team that had some key players like Charles O’Bannon and Toby Bailey from its 1995 title team. In the Final Four, the Golden Gophers would hang tough with Kentucky before losing late in the second half.
With Jackson gone to the NBA and James suspended, Minnesota would miss the NCAA Tournament in 1998 but win the NIT against Penn State. At the beginning of 1999, the Golden Gophers were a pleasant surprise, with Lewis having a remarkable season but not winning the Big Ten Player-of-the-Year Award (Ohio State’s Scoonie Penn and Michigan State’s Mateen Cleaves would win the awards from the media and coaches, respectively).
Despite getting to the 1999 NCAA Tournament, Minnesota did not get to enjoy the experience like other teams as the scandal sucked out any good vibes.
Heading into the Gonzaga game, Minnesota seemed like a dead team walking, which was the case in the first half, as seen in my breakdown.
Game Location at Key Arena in Seattle, Washington: Home of the Seattle SuperSonics, Key Arena was one of the loudest buildings in the NBA, as I learned when watching the Bulls beat the Sonics in the 1996 NBA Finals. Here is something cool about Key Arena. The color of its court under each three-point line was slightly different than the color from outside the three-point lines. It was something hard to notice, but a friend once pointed it out to me. It kind of looked weird and was distracting once noticed.
Anyways, for this tournament, the court for Key Arena was changed, with a funky, hippy-like sun sitting at the center court, which seems so Pacific Northwest looking back now.
Here’s one more important thing about the game’s location. Seattle is roughly 300 miles away from Spokane, the home of Gonzaga University. If it couldn’t get worse for Minnesota, Gonzaga had a distinct home-court advantage.
Announcing Team ofKevin Harlan and Jon Sundvold: Listening to Kevin Harlan call a basketball game, whether it’s 1999 or 2016, is a quite enjoyable experience. Sundvold, a former Missouri star who once played for the Supersonics, San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat, brought the broadcast a Southern twang, which I kind of liked. He did mess up a couple of times on Santangelo’s name, calling him Sant-angelo instead of San-tangelo, but no worries. Harlan was a bit reserved, maybe in light of the academic scandal, but got excited during the thrilling second half, releasing a trademark “Kaboom” when Frahm hit a big three late.
A Tale of Two Halves: Gonzaga hit the Golden Gophers, down a fifth player when reserve big man Kyle Sanden severely sprained his ankle during Wednesday’s practice, with haymakers throughout the first half. Led by Frahm, who was 4-of-6 from three and scored 16 first half points, the Bulldogs went 8-of-12 from three and shot 55% from the floor en route to a 19-point lead at the half. Reduced to playing reserves and yes, walk-ons, Minnesota was not helped by Lewis’ cold shooting or Przybilla’s foul trouble.
In the second half, Gonzaga quickly extended the lead to 21 points before playing some undisciplined basketball. With Minnesota picking up the intensity, defensive pressure and overall urgency, Gonzaga played into the Golden Gophers hands, hoisting up quick shots. To be honest, Gonzaga looked like a mid-major that was not ready for the moment at points in the second half. As for Minnesota…
Gophers Get Heroic Effort from Freshman Walk-On Dusty Rychart: Limited in experience and athleticism, Rychart sparked Minnesota in the second half, adeptly using his body to make up for his lack of jumping ability to score 23 points and grab 17 points. A traditional three-point play by Rychart amazingly cut the Gonzaga lead to just two points with 1:43 to play before Frahm made the key play of the game. Other Gophers who seized the day and balled out with their balls on the line were limited point guard Mitch Ohnstod and LSU-transfer Terrance Simmons (he had two crazy dunks in the second half).
While Minnesota would be down in years to come, due to penalties from the cheating scandal, Rychart would be a hard-working and very respectable overachiever throughout the rest of his career, as this Illinois fan could attest to.
Key Play of the Game: After Rychart’s free throw cut the game to 65-63 with less than 2 minutes to go, Frahm responded with a three (his first of the second half) on the next possession. Following a Simmons’ turnover, Gonzaga would break the press and hit Calvary for a layup, plus the foul, and the Bulldogs would salt away the game at the line for a 12-point victory. Here is the box score.
The Gonzaga Aftermath: While surviving Minnesota in the second half, Gonzaga was the better team and would have probably won if the Golden Gophers did not have four players suspended. Yet the Bulldogs would need to better in the second round against Stanford, which had made the Final Four in 1998. The Bulldogs would be better, shocking Stanford, nipping Florida on a Calvary tip in late in the Sweet Sixteen, and valiantly battling UCONN in the Elite Eight.
The Minnesota Aftermath: Haskins would not survive the cheating scandal. He was not officially fired but actually bought out by the school months after the 1999 season's conclusion. He would never coach in Division-I again, despite taking Minnesota to 6 tournaments in his 13 seasons. Before Haskins, Minnesota had been to 2 NCAA Tournaments. Since Haskins left, Minnesota has been to 4 tournaments.
The Weird Irony of This Game: Strange as it is, Gonzaga’s Monson would replace Haskins at Minnesota. His assistant, Mark Few, would take over the Gonzaga program. Unlike Monson, Few never left, and the rest has been history for the Zags.
Monson would eventually get Minnesota to the NCAA Tournament in 2005 before being replaced by Tubby Smith after the 2006 season. Monson did reach 4 NITs with Minnesota.
Also worth noting, in his first season at Minnesota, Monson kicked Przybilla off the team for skipping classes. Przybilla would never play for the Gophers again and would enter the 2000 Draft.
Since being fired at Minnesota, Monson has been the head coach at Long Beach State, where he reached the NCAA Tournament in 2012.
● Frahm was deadly from three and did a great job of getting the crowd going during tense moments in the second half.
● Santangelo was solid at the point in the first half, but a little shaky in the second half. When on, Santangelo could really run an offense, being just physical enough to create some space in the lane and then dish a nasty dime.
● Calvary had a quiet game until his three-point play in the final minute. His moment would come in the Sweet Sixteen.
● Minnesota left it all on the floor in the second half, and had nothing to be ashamed of, with Rychart keeping the Golden Gophers in the game.
● Whatever is thought of Haskins, as a coach, he had to be proud of how hard his team fought in the second half.
● Gonzaga nearly blew this game. Would Gonzaga be Gonzaga if it had squandered this game to Minnesota?
Conclusion: Well, that was a strange NCAA tournament game for many reasons and a great start for the “Thursday Treasures” series.
Enjoy the YouTube version of the game below.
Here are some key plays worth watching.
● At 57:30, 5’8’’ Gonzaga guard Quentin Hall makes a beautiful finger roll to quell, albeit temporarily, the Minnesota momentum.
● From 1:00:00 to 1:02:00, Frahm and Simmons go back and forth with terrific finishes.
● From 1:07:40 to 1:08:15, Simmons has another spectacular dunk but Lewis squanders the momentum with a missed layup.
● At 1:20:00, Frahm secures the game with a dagger of a three after Rychart had cut the Bulldogs lead to two.