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The No. 1-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs put their undefeated record on the line against the No. 6-seed USC Trojans in the Elite 8 NCAA Tournament matchup on Tuesday night in Indianapolis. The Zags jumped out to an early lead in the first half and eventually won going away, but what made headlines was the shocking collapse of referee Bert Smith on the sidelines early in the contest. 

Elite 8 matchup featuring top-seeded Gonzaga and No. 6 USC

The undefeated and No. 1 overall seed Gonzaga Bulldogs entered the Elite 8 matchup with the USC Trojans as heavy favorites and understandably so. The Bulldogs opened the NCAA college basketball season as the preseason No. 1-ranked team in the country. 

After going through the regular season and postseason tournament undefeated with a record of 26-0, the Bulldogs have rolled over their competition throughout the NCAA tournament with the closest margin of victory in the first three games — a 16-point win over Oklahoma.

The Trojans entered the Elite 8 contest with a lot of confidence as well after coming off wins over Drake, Kansas, and Oregon and playing with one of the best defenses in the nation. That defense would need to perform at a high level in order to have any hope of stopping the high-powered Gonzaga offense that has averaged a nation’s best 91.8 points per game this season.   

Bert Smith collapses during Elite 8 game

After Gonzaga forced a turnover and scored on a fast-break layup to take an 11-4 lead with just over 15 minutes remaining in the first half of the Elite 8 matchup, the game action came to an abrupt halt. Cameras didn’t catch referee Bert Smith collapse and fall to the floor but did show a Gonzaga assistant coach jumping from his seat and immediately rushing over to the fallen referee.  

Smith, who is a veteran official and was working his second Elite 8, lay motionless on his back at the corner of the baseline and sideline, just feet from the Gonzaga bench. When the two announcers recognized what had happened, cameras zoomed in, and Smith’s body appeared rigid with both his arms held out and above his head. 

Medical staff from both teams rushed to the referee. Play-by-play broadcaster Kevin Harlan described the situation as two medical officials jogged on the court with a stretcher. TBS went to a commercial break. After a few minutes, the broadcast returned to game coverage, where Harlan provided a brief update and said medical officials were still working on Smith.

When the final extended commercial break ended, cameras showed an alert and upright Smith being wheeled off the floor on the stretcher and talking. Rules analyst Gene Steratore provided an update a few minutes later, saying Smith had felt lightheaded and fell. He was being treated by trainers in the locker room and stable. Andy Katz later reported Smith will not require hospitalization. 

Bert Smith made headlines before

Referee collapses during Elite 8 contest
Referee Bert Smith lies on the court after collapsing during the first half of the Elite 8 game between the USC Trojans and the Gonzaga Bulldogs during the 2021 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.| Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

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It’s never a good thing for a referee to see their name in the headlines because that typically means there was some issue or error in the game. In 2013, Smith found his name in the headlines for the wrong reasons. 

During a Big 12 matchup between Kansas and Iowa State, Smith was involved in a controversial missed call on the Jayhawks that sent the game into overtime, which the Cyclones lost. The Big 12 acknowledged Smith and another official made mistakes and would take measures to “adjust the number of future assignments for the two officials involved in conjunction with conference policies.” 

Despite that controversy, Smith has proven himself through the years, and his appearance during the Gonzaga-USC game was his second Elite 8 assignment. 

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