After perhaps Gonzaga’s longest wait before playing an NCAA men’s tournament opener, the Zags face perhaps their quickest turnaround.
Gonzaga was one of the last teams to tip off in the first round before pounding 16th-seeded Norfolk State 98-55. The final buzzer sounded at about 8:20 p.m. PDT. The Zags soon learned they’ll tip off against No. 8 Oklahoma at 11:40 a.m. PDT Monday in Indianapolis.
That left little time for the tournament’s top overall seed to celebrate Saturday’s win before shifting into prep mode for the eighth-seeded Sooners with a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line.
“It’s amazing, even after all these years we’ve been in it, just how surprising the short the prep is,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, whose squad has made five consecutive Sweet 16s. “I don’t think any of us got back to the rooms until 1 a.m. (ET). We’ve got film, practice, film again (Sunday) and kind of an early (Monday) morning with a 2:40 game (ET).”
Few has modified his game plan over the years for the day between tourney games.
“With experience, the biggest thing is getting the guys rested and keeping them fresh,” he said. “When I was first starting this, we would have crammed in a full practice and five film sessions. Now it’s about being fresh.
“These guys as a group assimilate things very well, film wise and walk-through wise. We’ll be pretty light (Sunday) and probably more heavy on the scouting report and film.”
Freshman guard Jalen Suggs is fine with the late finish Saturday and an earlier start Monday.
“Even though my body doesn’t really like it as much anymore — it’s not the same as AAU tournaments and playing 2-3 games in a day, I don’t think I can do that any more — but knowing I get to go to sleep (Sunday night), wake up and get ready to play again is a great feeling.”
Gonzaga (27-0) encounters an Oklahoma team that surged into the top 10 of The Associated Press poll in late January after beating top-10 Kansas, Texas and Alabama in the span of eight days.
The Sooners dropped five of their last six games — four to top-12 programs — and slid out of the rankings before defeating ninth-seeded Missouri 72-68 on Saturday. Gonzaga-Norfolk State was early in the first half when Oklahoma’s game went final.
The short-handed Sooners (16-10) relied on play-making guard Austin Reaves and stretch big Brady Manek with second-leading scorer De’Vion Harmon sidelined with a positive COVID-19 test.
The 6-foot-5 Reaves hit 10 free throws, scored 23 points and handed out six assists in 38 minutes. The 6-9 Manek made five three-pointers and added 19 points. Junior guard Elijah Harkless chipped in 16 points and 10 boards.
Manek’s perimeter ability “really causes angst with your normal ball-screen coverages,” Few said. “Fortunately for us, there’s several teams in our league that do that same scheme, so we’re well versed with that.
“Reaves is maybe like (Pepperdine’s) Colbey Ross, a lot of usage in ball screens with total freedom to do what he wants. And also flops around and jumps into you and tries to bait officials into calling a lot of fouls, and does a great job of it. He’s a shot-maker, really crafty”
Oklahoma has proven it’s dangerous without key personnel, even before edging Missouri without Harmon. Reaves wasn’t available in the Sooners’ 66-61 win over Alabama, but Harmon had 18 points and three others scored in double figures.
“We’ve been top 10 this year, we’ve beaten plenty of teams that are just as good as Gonzaga,” said Manek, who has made 47 three-pointers and averages 11.2 points. “We’re going into this game like we have nothing to lose, but they’re beatable. We just have to play basketball and leave it all out there.”
Coach Lon Kruger said limiting Gonzaga’s transition game is the first priority in slowing down the nation’s top offense, but the Sooners, like Gonzaga, don’t have much time to study and implement their strategy.
“There’s a lot to pick up on and that’s the hardest part,” Suggs said of scouting GU in a short time frame. “We have so many pieces; we do a lot of things really well. Just to have 24 hours to try to pick up on that is going to be a tough task for anybody.”