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Zags put on the slipper yet again

Gonzaga's Tony Skinner went from goat to hero in a matter of seconds during the opening round of the NCAA tournament at the Huntsman Center Thursday.

After missing a breakaway dunk that would've put Gonzaga up five with 26 seconds left, he responded at the other end of the court, blocking a Cincinnati 3-point attempt by Tony Bobbitt that ultimately preserved Gonzaga's 74-69 win.

"We've said 'don't let what happens on one end affect what happens on the other,' " said Gonzaga coach Mark Few.

Skinner definitely didn't, and everyone's favorite Cinderella team now has a date with top seed Arizona Saturday at 3:40 p.m. in the Huntsman Center.

The Bulldogs almost let that opportunity slip away.

After going up 70-58 with 4:57 left in the game, the Bulldogs went 0 for 5 from the field and 5 for 8 from the foul line during the remainder of the game.

Cincinnati, meanwhile, started making shots they'd been missing all game and eventually closed the gap to 72-69 on a 3-pointer from senior guard Taron Barker.

On the ensuing inbounds play, Skinner broke through Cincinnati's pressing defense for a wide-open dunk.

Skinner's blunder-turned-heroics wasn't the only drama at the Huntsman Center.

With 16:17 left in the game, Cincinnati forward Jason Maxiell was whistled for travelling despite what appeared to be a foul. That didn't sit well with Bearcats coach Bob Huggins, whose team trailed 47-40.

Huggins started jumping up and down and screaming at referee Mike Kitts, who slapped him with a technical foul a few seconds later. The relentless Huggins continued screaming, and Kitts had no choice but to eject the excited coach.

"I'm not going to get in with what happened with the officials," said Huggins in a post-game press conference.

West Conference MVP Blake Stepp made all four free throws to put Gonzaga up 51-40, which the Bearcats never recovered from.

There was more drama to come.

Just before action was to resume, the same ref ejected Cincinnati radio analyst Chuck Machock for unsportsmanlike behavior.

"The official ejected an individual from the arena, which he has the authority to do, whether it is a fan or media," said Karl Benson, an NCAA basketball committee representative. "If it is in his judgment a person is exercising unsportsmanlike behavior, the official has the authority to have him removed."

Gonzaga's Ronny Turiaf led all scorers with 22 points, which included 16-of-22 shooting from the foul line.


E-MAIL: jedward@desnews.com