As J'Coven Brown's 75 foot heave fell short of the basket as time expired, Dino Gaudio let go a heavy sigh of relief as he headed to shake hands with opposing head coach Rick Barnes. Having finally broken through in the post-season, Gaudio and the Deacs are now set to take on top seeded Kentucky in the second round for a berth in the Sweet 16. Although the victory over Texas was just one game, it was much more than that for Gaudio's career at Wake, the confidence of Wake's basketball team, and Wake fans yearning for their first NCAA tournament win since 2005.
Ish Smith's pull up jumper from 15 feet hit the bottom of the net with 1.3 seconds left to give the Deacs an 81-80 victory over the Texas Longhorns. With the win, the Deacs ended a three year post-season drought, and did so in a manner to nearly absolve all thoughts of the "Wake Forest Curse". The three year drought also coincided with head coach Dino Gaudio's first three years at Wake, a major point of contention for Dino critics. By snagging a last second win over the Longhorns, Dino should receive at least a temporary reprieve from the sometimes overly-critical Wake Forest fan base.
The major criticism of Gaudio coming into the game revolved around three critical issues: Wake's intensity in late and post-season games, inability to effectively break a zone in the halfcourt set and inability to win a meaningful game beyond the regular season. Against the Longhorns, Gaudio's team had a resounding answer for two of the three questions.
Wake came out on fire, jumping out to an 18-7 lead and having double-digit leads in both halves before nearly blowing the game at the end of regulation. There was no question that the team was ready to play and answer the critics in both the media and the Wake Forest fan base. Ish Smith did a great job of getting down the lane early and involving his teammates on his way to 6 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists in the first half. Ish also finished the game in style as he hit the final shot to give the Deacs the lead and give the Deacs their first tournament win in the Gaudio era.
As far as the criticism regarding Wake's inability to break a zone in the halfcourt offense, there was more movement throughout the game and players were knocking down open shots which forced the Horns to extend the zone out to the perimeter. Once this occurred, Ish was able to penetrate down the lane more effectively when Texas switched almost strictly to zone for the second half. There is certainly still criticism to be found in our halfcourt sets and yesterday certainly does not prove that Wake can break an effective zone, but it was something and it was a better offense than Wake had run in the past.
Dino will get a chance to leave a fantastic impression on Wake fans tomorrow when the Deacs once again take the court against Kentucky around 8:30, but yesterday's victory over Texas should go along way to making Wake fans feel more confident in their head coach. I know it certainly helped Dino's image in at least one fan's eyes.