Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Graham Ike (13) shoots the ball over Kansas Jayhawks forward Parker Braun (23) during the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 23, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

It’s always a blast when the greatest sporting event in the world comes to your own backyard.

Such was the case this past week as the first two rounds of NCAA Tournament play arrived at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, where eight teams entered Thursday for only two to emerge victorious Saturday.

Here are some of the most memorable moments — the good and the bad — from Salt Lake’s March Madness action. We’ll call them “winners and losers.”

Winner: Gonzaga

Rumors of Gonzaga’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. The Bulldogs were clearly the most dominant squad at the Delta Center, wiping the floor with McNeese and routing Kansas late to advance to the program’s ninth-consecutive Sweet 16.

Not bad for what had felt like a “down year” in Spokane just a few weeks ago.

Graham Ike, Anton Watson and Nolan Hickman were all terrific for the Zags, who shot 56% from the field and 50% from deep as a team across two games in Salt Lake. Mark Few’s group now advances to face No. 1 seed Purdue this Friday in Detroit, where Gonzaga currently projects as a 4.5-point underdog but could certainly score an upset with more lights-out shooting and effective defense.

Kansas Jayhawks center Hunter Dickinson (1) defends against Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Ryan Nembhard (0) during the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Saturday, March 23, 2024. | Marielle Scott, Deseret News

Loser: Hunter Dickinson

There was no “one shining moment” in Salt Lake City for the senior big man, whose shorthanded Jayhawks were flat-out embarrassed by Gonzaga in the second round in what could possibly be Dickinson’s final collegiate outing.

After securing a halftime lead against the Zags, Dickinson finished with just two points on 1-for-7 shooting and a single rebound in the latter period, playing a major role in Kansas’ late collapse.

To make matters worse, he was a liability on defense throughout the matchup with the Bulldogs, who continually pick-and-rolled around him with ease and smothered him with an effective Ike and other front-court defenders.

Injuries to his Jayhawk teammates did give Dickinson a heavier load to carry in the tournament, but his performance left much to be desired for an All-America selection such as himself. If this is the last time we see Dickinson suit up in college, it was a pretty rough way to go out.

Long Beach State head coach Dan Monson coaches an NCAA Tournament game against Arizona at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2024. Arizona won 85-65. Monson was fired but stayed on to coach the tournament. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Winner: Dan Monson

Sure, Monson went one-and-done in Salt Lake, but just having been in the tournament at all is a laudable feat given his road to get there. Ten years from now, no one will remember Long Beach State falling to Arizona in the round of 64, but the Beach’s inspired run to win a Big West title following Monson’s firing will forever be known as one of the most uniquely incredible coaching triumphs of our era.

No one else won their press conference last week quite like Monson. He was refreshingly honest. He was thoughtful and sincere. He was really funny. Likening his situation to George Costanza of “Seinfeld” was enough to capture America’s heart.

With an immense amount of attention on him, Monson left a wonderful impression on everyone fascinated with his circumstances. He even took the high road when asked about Long Beach State’s athletic director reportedly claiming that Monson’s firing had been strategically planned to push the school back into the tournament.

“If (the firing) helped, I’m really happy we did it,” Monson told reporters after the Beach’s loss to Arizona.

That’s a team player right there.

The 62-year-old Monson — who had spent 17 seasons in Long Beach — is now unemployed and more than deserving of another coaching opportunity. If the Danny Sprinkle rumors turn out to be true and he heads elsewhere, Utah State should give Monson a call.

Nevada Wolf Pack guard Jarod Lucas (2), Dayton Flyers guard Enoch Cheeks (6) and Dayton Flyers forward Nate Santos (2) fight for the ball during an NCAA Tournament game at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2024. Dayton made a comeback to win 63-60. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Loser: Nevada’s final 7 minutes

With 7:39 left to play Thursday afternoon, Nevada guard Kenan Blackshear drained a 3-pointer to extend the Wolf Pack’s lead over Dayton to 17 points. The dynamic back court of Blackshear and Jarod Lucas had toyed with the Flyers all day, with the possible 7-10 upset appearing all but inevitable.

But it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

Over the final seven minutes following that Blackshear 3-pointer, Dayton went on a 24-4 tear to narrowly escape defeat and leave Nevada stunned. It was one of the most remarkable comeback efforts in recent March Madness memory and arguably the most exciting point out of all the Delta Center’s tournament action last week.

While the Wolf Pack crumbled thanks to 2-for-9 shooting and four turnovers down the stretch, the Flyers finished a perfect 7 for 7 from the field with six additional free throws to storm past Nevada and into the second round.

Dayton’s DaRon Holmes II deserves some love for his Salt Lake showing. The junior forward averaged 20.5 points, 10 rebounds and three steals on 52% shooting across his two tournament outings, impacting the action in every aspect imaginable and often looking like the best player on the court. He’s already being talked about as a potential NBA draft pick this summer, and his Delta Center showing definitely did its part to help his professional stock.

Samford Bulldogs forward Achor Achor (14) celebrates a dunk against the Kansas Jayhawks during the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2024. | Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Winner: Samford

No. 13-seeded Samford may have fallen short and gone home winless, but no one has embodied the scrappy underdog role this March quite like Bucky McMillan’s unit. If you had never heard of Samford before, that quickly changed as the Bulldogs pushed Kansas to the brink before some, well, questionable officiating extinguished their fervent flame.

Seeing the Delta Center explode into pro-Samford cheers was one of the coolest moments of Salt Lake’s hosting experience this year. The Bulldogs’ zippy offense, high-volume shooting and relentless defensive hustle made them as lovable as a mid-major can be, staring right into the eyes of the heavily-favored, historic juggernaut Jayhawks and refusing to balk or back down. It was inspiring stuff.

If this was Samford’s introduction to the mainstream college basketball world, it’s hard to think of a better end result for the Bulldogs outside of actually getting a win. They’ll definitely be back. They haven’t seen the last of March.

I spent some time talking with one of their team managers after the Kansas loss, and he told me the ultimate goal of the program is to become the Gonzaga of the south. If that’s the objective, this was a tremendous first step.

Loser: Referees

I actually thought the officiating was mostly solid for last week’s games, but one unforgivable miscue completely tainted everything ref-related:

How on earth was this called a foul?

The need for a coaches’ challenge system in college basketball has never been more obvious than on this play, where a potential all-time March Madness moment and program-altering victory for Samford was negated by a phantom foul on this chase-down block attempt from A.J. Staton-McCray.

If the block stands, the Bulldogs have another chance to take the lead on the ensuing possession. Instead, it all but buried them. Such a shame. Do better, stripes!

Arizona Wildcats guard Caleb Love (2) shoots during an NCAA Tournament game against the Long Beach State 49ers at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City on Thursday, March 21, 2024. Arizona won 85-65. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

Winner: Caleb Love

Two years after becoming a March hero for UNC, Caleb Love, now at Arizona, has led the Wildcats into the Sweet 16 after two convincing wins in Salt Lake City.

Returning to March Madness has been a redemption tour of sorts for Love. The Tar Heels missed the tournament a year ago, with Love viewed as one of the main scapegoats. He transferred to Arizona and has blossomed back into a star, averaging 18.5 points thus far in postseason play.

He may not be the most efficient of scorers — he went 12-32 from the field at the Delta Center — but Love coughed up just four turnovers in the two games along with adding seven rebounds and five assists per contest. It was a quality showing for someone who desperately needed to get over the early hump to gain momentum for a deeper run.

The Wildcats haven’t been to a Final Four since 2001, and with a proven veteran weapon such as Love leading the charge, Arizona have a legitimate path to getting to the Phoenix festivities.

Should Love and company take down Clemson on Thursday, they could end up facing — you guessed it — UNC with a trip to the Final Four on the line. You couldn’t ask for better drama.

Winner: Spirit sections

College basketball is supposed to be fun, right? No one embodied such joy better than Dayton’s pep band, who donned colorful matching outfits, painted their faces like professional wrestlers and heckled opponents more furiously than any other fans in the arena.

Most notably, the Flyer musicians had a deep selection of hats to cycle through at every time out. I was obviously a fan of such antics. More bands should be like Dayton’s!

Speaking of musical fun, I have to give a shoutout to Nevada’s wolf mascot for this dancing performance to Matchbox Twenty’s 2007 classic “How far we’ve come.”

I didn’t even know dancing to anything by Matchbox Twenty was possible, let alone doing so in a heavy wolf outfit and absolutely breaking it down for the world to see. Give this performer a raise.

Loser: Nets

Nothing but net? More like nothing but trouble.

The NCAA-provided netting was annoyingly tight all week long, with made shots consistently getting stuck and arena workers having to stretch out the nets at every available opportunity. It’s a real crime that so many of the elite shooters to come through the Delta Center for these first two rounds were robbed of the satisfying swishes they deserved.