In case you missed Tennessee on Saturday at KeyArena, there should be ample opportunities to catch the Vols in March. The team that shrugged...
In case you missed Tennessee on Saturday at KeyArena, there should be ample opportunities to catch the Vols in March. The team that shrugged at Gonzaga’s challenge in the fifth Battle in Seattle looks fully capable of a robust run in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.
Around the Gonzaga camp, there were disappointed but accurate pockets of praise for the Vols: Great shooters, quick hands, underrated defense, varied weapons. The sum of it equaled 11th-ranked Tennessee’s 82-72 victory over the Zags.
“They’re an aggressive, athletic, opportunistic team,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, lamenting his club’s fourth loss against nine victories. Referencing Tennessee’s Sweet 16 team of nine months ago, he said, “I think they’re a lot harder to guard than they were last year.”
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Six Vols scored in double figures, while the Zags, not quite ready for prime time after a couple of early-season injuries, showed their fits-and-starts side. Although 6-foot-11 Josh Heytvelt — plagued by foot problems all fall — played 24 promising minutes for 12 points, Gonzaga got very little inside, which is where it figured to need it against the perimeter-oriented Vols.
Guard Matt Bouldin — “A warrior today,” Few said — scrapped for 21 points to lead all scorers. But Gonzaga suffered two notable shortfalls among their starters. Point guard Jeremy Pargo got his lone basket with 3:16 remaining and had six turnovers, and forward Micah Downs played 12 minutes and had a rebound, nothing more.
“They climbed up into him, and he didn’t respond very well,” Few said of Downs. “It wasn’t his style of game. Micah’s played very well for us in a lot of different games.”
As for Pargo, Few said, “Jeremy had a rough game. When you play a top-10 team, your main guys have to play pretty good. It’s tough to [have] negative games, whether it’s today or Matt [Bouldin] against Oklahoma because of the sprained ankle.”
The Vols are known for shooting three-pointers without conscience, but Gonzaga could have lived with the 10-for-29 day by the visitors. It was Tennessee’s 21 for 38 on the rest of its shots that most troubled the Zags.
A 12-0 first-half run pulled Gonzaga in front after an early 15-5 deficit, but Tennessee, inevitably, spurted. The half ended with the Vols leading 36-31 when Ramar Smith rattled in a banked three.
Tennessee nailed its first two threes of the second half, loosening up the interior, and suddenly, with 9:50 left, Gonzaga was staring at a 64-46 deficit. For the partisan Zags fans, it was the most horrifying development at KeyArena since the 2004 NCAA-tournament thrashing applied by Nevada.
“They hit a couple of threes and we started leaning out,” said Gonzaga forward David Pendergraft. “It just opened up the middle.”
Gonzaga assembled a run, fueled by Bouldin and Heytvelt. But the Zags’ offense isn’t consistent or formidable enough right now to overcome somebody like the Vols.
“They were all over the place, getting their hands on balls,” said Pendergraft.
Said Bruce Pearl, Tennessee coach: “We were quick to the ball and quick rotating. If you let ’em do what they want, forget about it.”
Bouldin’s three with 75 seconds left cut Gonzaga’s deficit to 76-71. But, typical of the Zags’ day, they allowed an offensive rebound after J.P. Prince’s free throw, and soon, Tennessee was home free.
Without consistent scoring inside, Few wanted to push the tempo but the Zags couldn’t do it with regularity as Pargo struggled and seemed to evince frustration on the floor.
“I’ve got to play through that,” Pargo said. “There’s no need for me to get down. I shouldn’t have shown that at all.”
The crowd of 15,141 was the largest in Seattle college-basketball history for a non-NCAA tournament game.
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Percentages: FG .463, FT .667. Three-point goals: 10-29, .345 (J.Smith 4-9, Lofton 3-12, R.Smith 2-3, Howell 1-3, Childress 0-1, Chism 0-1). Team rebounds: 0. Blocked shots: 2 (Chism 2). Turnovers: 10 (J.Smith 3, R.Smith 3, Lofton 2, Chism, Howell). Steals: 10 (Lofton 2, J.Smith 2, Prince 2, Chism 2, R.Smith, T.Smith). Technical fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .393, FT .750. Three-point goals: 7-23, .304 (Bouldin 3-7, Gray 2-4, Daye 1-3, Pendergraft 1-4, Downs 0-2, Pargo 0-3). Team rebounds: 7. Blocked shots: 4 (Heytvelt 2, Daye, Pargo). Turnovers: 18 (Pargo 6, Heytvelt 3, Pendergraft 2, Bouldin 2, Daye 2, Gray, Kuso, Sacre). Steals: 5 (Daye 2, Gray, Heytvelt, Pargo). Technical fouls: None.
Attendance: 15,141. Officials: Mike Nance, Bert Smith, Tony Greene.