Zags say they will relish playing in front of a pro-Northwestern crowd in Saturday’s second-round West Region game in Salt Lake City.
SALT LAKE CITY – South Dakota State finally in the rear-view mirror, Gonzaga sophomore guard Josh Perkins walked inside Vivint Smart Home Arena to catch 10 minutes of the Northwestern-Vanderbilt game.
He saw a sea of purple supporting Northwestern’s maiden NCAA tournament voyage.
“It was loud in there,” Perkins said. “They were friendly to me, it was kind of weird. Really nice people, but I’m sure when that ball goes in the air, it’ll turn real quick.”
Gonzaga vs. Northwestern, 2:15 p.m., Ch. 7
The top-seeded Zags (33-1) are essentially considering it as a road game Saturday when they face No. 8 Northwestern (24-11) with a trip to the NCAA Sweet 16 on the line.
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“We do look forward to that,” junior guard Silas Melson said. “That’s what we want. We like playing with our backs against the wall. We like playing when fans are against us. That brings more fun, brings more competitiveness to us and brings out our best.”
Gonzaga’s offense wasn’t nearly at its best against South Dakota State, which cluttered the paint with defenders and dared the rest of the Zags to connect from the perimeter.
Gonzaga made just 2 of 14 three-pointers in a 26-point first half. The Zags warmed up in the second half, making 6 of 16 three-pointers, to pull away for a 66-46 victory.
Will other teams try to mimic SDSU’s strategy?
“I would think,” coach Mark Few said, “but that’s what they (the Jackrabbits) do. I don’t necessarily think when you get into the NCAA tournament and have one day of prep you switch everything you’re doing. We could see anything.”
Northwestern’s defense is one of the better units in the nation. The Wildcats yield 65.1 points (34th) on 40.3 percent shooting (23rd). They’re undersized with a 6-foot-8, 235-pound Dererk Pardon at center, but still rank 19th in blocked shots.
“If we’re making shots they have to guard us and then we can use our advantage with Przemek (Karnowski), Z-bo (Zach Collins) and J3 (Johnathan Williams),” Perkins said. “That’s probably the first time I’ve ever experienced that kind of defense. Hopefully our shots go in (Saturday).”