SPOKANE, Wash. - From the stands at EnergySolutions Arena to the Bing in downtown Spokane to the Spokane County Courthouse, thousands of Zag fans were glued to the nail-biter in Salt Lake City Thursday afternoon.
Initially some Zag fans were pretty confident about calling this one beforehand. After all, since 1985, a 16-seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed.
One Zag fan watching the game in Salt Lake is former basketball player Mike Champion, who said no true Zag fan is completely confident for a game. Luckily, he can now relax along with thousands of other fans.
The party in Salt Lake Cuty started two hours before the game and now, with their victory over Southern, it will continue through the night. The nervousness that Champion menntioned, was there throughout the game Thursday afternoon.
"Now we have a little chip on our shoulders, because we have to prove that we deserve to be No. 1," Gonzaga fan Greg Green said.
Champion played for Gonzaga in the 1980s and is amazed at the program's transformation.
"I tell people when they asked, that I played for a little school out west. They'd say, where was that, and I'd say Gonzaga, they had no idea. Now everyone knows Gonzaga," he said.
Champion lives in Atlanta now, the site of the national championship.
"I don't want to jinx anything but some former teammates have called and reserved beds in our home. We would love to host people in Atlanta for the Final Four," he said.
As the Zags move closer to Georgia, we move closer to Easter. The problem Gonzaga's Father Hightower has is he gave up losing for Lent. Unfortunately Lent ends Sunday, while Gonzaga next plays Wichita State on Saturday.Zag fans in SLC
"A lot of times the idea of penance is to do something to purify yourself and make yourself better. That's not just limited to the advent or Lenten season, so we'll keep that going," Father Hightower explained.
Sneaking out of class and the office
Back home in Spokane, people were having a hard time staying focused in class and at work while the Zags were on the court.
"I'm very excited about today's game," Louie Flores said.
Alec Marinos asked his boss for the day off on Monday so he could watch the game on the big screen at the Bing.
"He wasn't going to be there anyway; he likes Gonzaga basketball too," Marinos said.
One fan, who asked not to be identified, was playing hooky from work to catch the game.
"I'm supposed to be tiling a floor," he said.
It's okay though. He's the boss; it's his clients he's worried about.
"Oh, the Zags are only No. 1 once, you gotta go see them. You can't be tiling a floor and listening to it on the radio, just doesn't cut it," he explained.
Flores is self-employed, making it easy to lay low when he caught the game at the Bing, the closest to courtside without leaving home.
"You actually feel like you are at the game; there's no question, you can hear the squeaks of the tennis shoes, you hear the roar of the crowd and the crowd gets into it as well," he said.
Gameday recess at the Spokane County Courthouse
The Zags victory in Salt Lake City was a welcome verdict at the Spokane County Courthouse, where the majority of the judicial staff got their Juris Doctorates from Gonzaga. In fact, all but one local Superior Court judge graduated from Gonzaga Law School.
Judge Sam Cozza bucked the trend by going to University of Washington's law school but, in his defense, he got his bachelor's degree at Gonzaga. Perhaps that's why he is still allowed to sit on the bench in Spokane.
On Thursday there were a lot of vacant seats inside the courthouse. As Gonzaga's game time approached you could almost hear the wheels of justice grinding to a halt in Superior Court.
Hallways were empty, courtrooms went dark.
Of course there were exceptions; people who were arrested Wednesday night are guaranteed a chance to see a judge so Gonzaga grad Judge Maryann Moreno took one for the team and handled the initial appearance docket.
"I wish I had the afternoon off so I could be home watching the game," Judge Annette Plese said.
Judge Plese spent her afternoon hearing motions, but her jury, dwelling over a domestic violence case, actually asked to delay their deliberations until Gonzaga was done dispatching the Jaguars. .
"They did; when we started jury selection on Monday, that they could have Thursday afternoon off so they could watch the game, and I told them I would accommodate them," she said.
Just across the street from the courthouse The Sidebar was full of bar association members. Gonzaga grad Mark Hodgson knows justice is blind but local lawyers lean decidedly towards the Bulldogs.
"It really is; when you look at how many Gonzaga lawyers stay in our area, it's a big deal for our community," he said.
Gonzaga's next game is on Saturday and so only if the Bulldogs reach the Sweet 16 will anyone have to worry about game-related recesses again at the courthouse.