Zags do their homework: Gonzaga needed a little magic to pull off first-round win over scandal-embroiled Minnesota

Jan. 1—Editor's note: This is the third of a six-part look back at Gonzaga's wild run to the Elite Eight during the 1998-99 season.

Some of the Zags at the time objected a bit to the "Cinderella" label that was applied to them during their unlikely run through the NCAA Tournament in 1999.

They thought it downplayed their abilities, as if their hard-fought string of upset wins carried the fictional qualities of a Disney production.

But even Disney would have had trouble plausibly scripting the actual setup of the Zags tournament opener against Big 10 powerhouse Minnesota.

As Gonzaga grew into a more competitive force in college basketball through the 1990s, the Zags encountered a series of slights and disrespect in post-season consideration. Nobody could beef about the No. 10 seeding in the West Region in March, 1999, though.

The Zags, 25-6, champions of the West Coast Conference season and tournament, were shipped cross-state to Seattle's Key Arena.

The Sonics' home became the auxiliary, West Side Kennel for the raucous GU fans, along with the thousands of unattached hoop fans in the arena who were soon screaming senselessly for the underdog Zags.

Minnesota, the No. 7 seed, was having a rough week. Four players had been suspended on Wednesday when a local paper published stories alleging a widespread academic scandal.

It required drastic lineup shuffling, and forced coach Clem Haskins to answer a series of difficult questions regarding his awareness of and participation in the shenanigans.

That the Zags roster was filled with a number of scholars turned the game into a bit of a morality play. Asked if the Zags had others write their essays, guard Richie Frahm laughed and reported that, NCAA appearance or no, "a lot of us brought our homework with us this week."

The Zags fans were suitably sympathetic to the Golden Gophers' travails, loudly chanting "Do your homework ... clap, clap, clap ... Do your homework!" and waving homemade signage that included "Phlunk the Goferz."

But the most foreshadowing scene, one that would have required expensive CGI or animation, even for Disney, came the day before the game's tip-off.

After practice, as they do every day, players and coaches compete with half-court shots.

Before the Minnesota game, Zags coach Dan Monson took the last shot. Half-court, nothing but net.

The players went berserk and tossed him another ball. Monson pivoted and fired another half-court swish on the other basket.

"I'll tell you what, coach has been on fire all season," guard Matt Santangelo said. "It doesn't surprise me at all that he steps up for the big games."

As an unexpected defensive approach, the Zags staff sicced the hyper-kinetic Bahamian point guard Quentin Hall on Gopher forward Quincy Lewis, the Big 10's leading scorer and eventually an NBA first-round draft pick.

Hall was aspirationally listed at 5-foot-8. Lewis was 6-7. The Zags went to a box-and-one defense, with Hall assigned to make Lewis' life miserable across every inch of the court.

Zags assistant coach Mark Few said that Hall reminded him of the tiny cartoon chickenhawk that constantly bedeviled the much larger Foghorn Leghorn. ("Get away from me, boy, I say, get away from me.")

In the face of Hall's ceaseless harassment, Lewis was conspicuously bumfuzzled, missing 16 of 19 shots and all five of his 3-point attempts. In allegorical news at halftime, Zags reserve guard Ryan Floyd, from Class B Sprague-Harrington, outscored the All American Lewis.

Minnesota gobbled up the bulk of the Zags' 21-point lead in the second half, closing it to 65-63 with 1:22 left, when Frahm netted a deep 3 to trigger a Zags end-game sequence that left the final at 75-63. Frahm finished with 26.

The Zags were off to do their homework and prepare for a game against Stanford.

Minnesota flew home to heated investigation that led to the firing of Haskins, who was replaced by the hottest shooting head coach in the country, Monson, which opened the GU job for Mark Few.