Gonzaga finally exorcised the demons of a Sweet Sixteen past, and put on a brutal show in doing so.
One of the worst memories in Gonzaga’s star-crossed NCAA Tournament history involved blowing a double-digit lead to UCLA in a Sweet Sixteen. This bunch of Bulldogs had no interest in creating a new one: They bullied the Bruins, especially in a strong second half, for a 74-62 win.
Przemek Karnowski had 18 points and nine rebounds for Gonzaga, and also dished two gorgeous passes to fellow big man Domantas Sabonis (12 points, eight rebounds) in the second half. The frontcourt pairing combined to make 14 of their 20 shots, helping steady the South Regional’s No. 2 seed on a night in Houston when few shots fell.
After Gonzaga built a 13-10 lead early, both teams went without a field goal for the same six-minute stretch in the first half. The Zags managed a 3-0 run over that stretch thanks to free throws, and led by 11 in the first half before going to halftime with a seven-point lead.
But while UCLA came out of the locker room hot, slicing Gonzaga’s lead to a single point with a 6-0 run, Mark Few’s Bulldogs responded with a better counterpunch: A 12-0 run stretched the lead back to double digits. Gonzaga led by 16 at the eight-minute mark, then by no fewer than 11 points for the rest of the night, despite a late flurry of makes from UCLA.
The win gives Gonzaga its first Elite Eight berth since 1999, when the Bulldogs burst onto the national stage as one of the best “Cinderellas” of the ’90s before falling to UConn in a regional final. For UCLA, it was the second consecutive trip to the Sweet Sixteen to end in a loss under Steve Alford: The Bruins fell to No. 1 seed Florida last year, and haven’t made an Elite Eight since their third straight Final Four campaign under Ben Howland in 2008.
Here are three things we learned from Gonzaga’s win:
1. This Gonzaga team is burly and can be the bully
Gonzaga’s always had shooters under Few, especially in recent years, but its truly elite big men have been few and far between: A Ronny Turiaf here, a Kelly Olynyk there. Now, in Karnowski and Sabonis, the Bulldogs may have their two best bigs on the same team.
Karnowski’s a plodding, crafty scorer who uses his size (he’s listed, perhaps charitably, at 7’1” and 288 pounds) and skills to find a spot on the block and operate from there. Sabonis, son of Lithuanian legend Arvydas, has better athleticism, and can move around to create matchup issues and be a better pick-and-roll partner if necessary.
The pair linked up for a couple of fine buckets in the second half, with Karnowski showing off his vision and touch as a passer.
Gonzaga is likely to see Duke and Jahlil Okafor next, but it can feel more confident about its chances against the Blue Devils’ superb freshman than most.
2. It is hard to shoot in a dome, and that killed UCLA
Through the first 35 minutes of play in Houston’s NRG Stadium, UCLA had 21 field goals, and just two on jumpers outside the paint. The Bruins’ first three didn’t come until just 2:25 remained on the clock, and even though it was followed by triples on their next two possessions, the drought from deep left UCLA without a response to Gonzaga’s consistent scoring from its big men.
Tony Parker, who destroyed UAB with 28 points and 16 rebounds in the Round of 32, had 16 points and 12 rebounds on Friday night, but that wasn’t nearly enough to keep pace with Karnowski and Sabonis. And UCLA’s three starters at guard — Norman Powell, Bryce Alford, and Isaac Hamilton — needed a staggering 43 shots to get their combined 35 points.
Gonzaga shot terribly from beyond the arc, too, making just three of 19 threes, but dumping the ball down produced more than enough offense for the Bulldogs to advance.
3. Gonzaga didn’t wilt when it could have
That 6-0 run by UCLA was the sort of blitz that could have swung a game had it continued. A similar run, combined with a dry spell, is what sank Gonzaga in the 2005 NCAA Tournament against UCLA, resulting in the indelible image of Adam Morrison sobbing while sitting on the floor.
This Gonzaga team simply shrugged and let Karnowski (who had six points in that 12-0 run) shoulder the load. He delivered. And now the Bulldogs are one step from college basketball’s biggest stage for the first time in 16 years.
Source SBNation.com - All Posts http://ift.tt/1G0UpyB