Gonzaga gets tough inside and out in easy NCAA victory
PITTSBURGH — Well, say this for that home-court advantage West Virginia was going to have on Gonzaga:
At least it’s a short trip back home to Morgantown.
Seventy-eight miles, to be exact. At times, it seemed the Zags were that far ahead of the Mountaineers in their NCAA-tournament game Thursday night. The final was 77-54, Gonzaga, an old-fashioned keister-kicking that left the Consol Energy Center stunned and lifeless.
With a stout team effort inside against West Virginia All-American forward Kevin Jones and a big lift from some of their most youthful players, especially in the backcourt, the Zags controlled this almost from tip to finish.
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So dominant were they that the Mountaineers didn’t string four points together until the clock reached 3:25 of the second half.
“What Mark’s done is a great job of recruiting guys who can play basketball,” said West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, referring to Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “Sometimes you get caught up in guys who can run and jump but have no clue about how to play basketball.”
The victory, Gonzaga’s fourth in a row in opening the NCAAs since 2009, pits GU against Ohio State for a trip to the Sweet 16 in Boston.
But about that Big East image of toughness and rugged play … turns out the country’s most oversized league might not have a copyright on it.
The Zags won their sixth game in the last nine against Big East teams. They limited Jones mostly with massive Robert Sacre plus a host of defenders who cluttered Jones’ path to the basket for offensive rebounds, where he leads the nation.
Jones had 13 points — seven below his average — and his four rebounds were a season low.
The Mountaineers (19-14), the 10th regional seed to Gonzaga’s No. 7, were a lot better in the interview room than they were on the floor.
“We knew they were going to come out aggressive, just by the way they were talking,” said Jones. “They stayed that way the whole game.”
His fellow departing senior, guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant, held to a 2-for-10 night, said, “I feel they outtoughed us.”
At times in the second half, the game was on track to be the biggest blowout of the first full day of the tournament. It ended up being Gonzaga’s second-widest victory in 31 games of the tournament, second only to the 76-49 victory over Valparaiso at KeyArena in 2004.
The Zags had much the better of it in the backcourt with their freshmen tandem of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr., who had more points at half (25) than West Virginia (22). Pangos pushed the pace, shot well, Bell defended Bryant, and the two generally had a big rebound after a down night in the West Coast Conference tournament final against Saint Mary’s.
“They’ve been doing it for (32) games now,” Few said. “You know they’re going to compete, you know they’re not going to be afraid. They’ve been shooting the ball really, really well, and when they don’t shoot it well, it’s a surprise.
“It’s not from lack of confidence or lack of stepping up and doing their preparation.”
West Virginia had a 2-0 lead, and that was as good as it got for the Mountaineers. Pangos flipped in a left-handed layup and rifled in a three from the deep right wing, and Gonzaga wouldn’t trail again.
At 14-10, Gonzaga pieced together a 13-0 run, holding West Virginia scoreless for six minutes, and suddenly it was 27-10. And over. The Mountaineers never generated so much as a reply.
Gonzaga shot 56 percent and allowed 32.7, leaving Huggins uncertain which to rip harder, his defense or his offense.
“This is the worst defensive team I’ve had in 30 years,” he said. “We don’t give help, we don’t get loose balls.” As for the other end, he said, “There was going to come a time when they were going to double KJ (Jones) and not let him get to the glass. We can’t spread anybody. We haven’t hit any shots for a month.”
Sighed Huggins, “We’ve never gotten beat like that. We were just never in the game.”
In the other locker room, Few was telling the Zags to keep it in perspective.
“This was just game one,” he said. “We didn’t come here to just win one game. They did a wonderful job, but we have to do the same thing on Saturday.”
That will be tough. But tough is something Gonzaga apparently knows about, along with the Big East.
|WEST VIRGINIA (19-14)|
Percentages: FG .327, FT .679. Three-point goals: 3-17, .176 (Bryant 2-6, Browne 1-2, Williamson 0-2, Brown 0-2, Hinds 0-2, Jones 0-3). Team rebounds: 3. Blocked shots: 3 (Jones, Williamson, Brown). Turnovers: 10 (Browne 3, Rutledge 2, Bryant 2, Kilicli, Hinds). Steals: 2 (Hinds, Bryant). Technical fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .560, FT .750. Three-point goals: 9-17, .529 (Harris 2-2, Pangos 2-4, Bell, Jr. 2-5, Stockton 1-1, Monninghoff 1-1, Hart 1-3, Landry Edi 0-1). Team rebounds: 1. Blocked shots: 2 (Bell, Jr., Sacre). Turnovers: 10 (Landry Edi 2, Spangler 2, Dower, Pangos, Bell, Jr., Harris, Sacre, Stockton). Steals: 9 (Harris 3, Pangos 2, Landry Edi, Spangler, Dower, Stockton). Technical fouls: None.
Attendance: NA. Officials: Randall McCall, Ron Groover, Richard Crawford.