When Gonzaga finally got over its difficulty crashing the Sweet 16, the Zags did it with authority. Shooting a scorching 62 percent in the first half, GU stormed into its first NCAA-tournament round of 16 since 2009 by dispatching Iowa, 87-68, Sunday afternoon at KeyArena.

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This was for the night that Wichita State brought a No. 1 seed crashing down on Gonzaga’s head. This was for the empty day in Buffalo five years ago, when Syracuse cruised and the Gonzaga coach was left to wonder what happened to the effort.

This was for a sobering afternoon in Denver four years ago, when the Zags got Jimmered.

So Gonzaga’s 87-68 victory over Iowa on Sunday at KeyArena was as cathartic as it was dominating. In front of a sellout crowd that seemed to eat it all up, Gonzaga exorcised the demon of not crashing the NCAA Sweet 16 since 2009 with a performance that was the Zags at their best.

Game at a glance

Player of the game: Domantas Sabonis. The 6-foot-10 freshman wasn’t even in Gonzaga’s starting lineup, but he set the tone for the Bulldogs on both ends of the floor. Sabonis finished with 18 points and nine rebounds, and his dogged man-to-man defense also kept Hawkeyes star Aaron White out of sorts. White, who scored a game-high 26 points on 11-of-14 shooting in Iowa’s win over Davidson on Friday night, managed just six first-half points on Sunday. By the time the senior really got going on the other side of halftime, the game was already out of reach.

Key to the game: Gonzaga’s scorching first-half shooting performance. The Zags shot 62 percent in the opening 20 minutes, canning 18 of 29 shots. They were even more impressive behind the arc, hitting 7 of 10 three-pointers as they built a 46-29 halftime lead that the Hawkeyes never really threatened.

Turning point: Iowa looked to have weathered Gonzaga’s early storm when Gabriel Olaseni finished past a reaching Kyle Wiltjer to cut the Bulldog lead to three midway through the first half. On the next Gonzaga possession, though, Sabonis went right at Olaseni, dunked on the Hawkeye big man and screamed in celebration. The sequence kicked off a 16-4 Zag run that pushed the Gonzaga advantage comfortably into the double-digits.

Quote: “That was a lot of fun,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We played great. This team is so much fun to be associated with when we’re going like that.”

“You’re exhilarated for your guys,” said GU coach Mark Few, recalling the moments when the crowd was roaring and the last seconds melted away. “Just pure joy, contentment at the highest level.”

Truth be told, he might have to accommodate more fulfillment in Houston. The Zags (34-2) play UCLA on Friday night, and as well as the Bruins are clicking right now, Gonzaga’s answer against the Hawkeyes was at least as emphatic.

The Zags gunned the lights out, hitting 10 of 16 threes on the way to a 61.5 percent day. They guided the ball inside, where Przemek Karnowski and Domas Sabonis combined for 10 buckets in 16 tries. And they pummeled the seventh-seeded Hawkeyes on the boards, 34-22.

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Iowa (22-12) hasn’t allowed so many points since Iowa State scored 90 on Dec. 12. And when Gonzaga bolted to a 46-29 halftime lead, that was the Zags’ second-best offensive half since Thanksgiving week.

At times it was so overwhelming, Few morphed from coach to fan.

“They were just playing; they were ballin’,” he said. “We weren’t calling a lot of sets — which is what I always want them to do. I don’t want them to need my help.”

All the concerns about matching the Hawkeyes floated away like soap bubbles in the wind. The Zags opted to guard 6-foot-9 All-Big Ten forward Aaron White with 6-5 Byron Wesley to start and mostly played White and 6-9 teammate Jarrod Uthoff with guards and wings.

On one mirthful Iowa possession, Gary Bell Jr. hounded White, and fellow 6-2 guard Kevin Pangos had Uthoff. Wiltjer, meanwhile, started against 6-6 off guard Peter Jok, as the Zags liked the idea that Jok didn’t appear to be a driving threat and thus not a potential foul problem for Wiltjer.

“Tommy did a great job with this scout,” Few said. “We had some crazy, crazy matchups.”

When Lloyd proposed the small-on-big matchups Saturday, Few had to be convinced. He retired for the night, skeptical.

“I woke up this morning with a great peace about it,” Few said, thinking, “We’re going to play well.”

He couldn’t have known how well. Wiltjer’s three got them off and running, and a 9-0 run vaulted the Zags to a 27-15 lead. Everywhere the Zags looked, there was offense, inside, outside.

Wiltjer rained a three for a 34-19 lead, and Bell, whose jumper occasionally had abandoned him late in the season, scored nine of Gonzaga’s last 11 points before intermission.

There were fragile moments early in the second half, as the Hawkeyes scored on their first three trips. They were within 11 four times but a killing 9-0 run, climaxed by a Pangos three from the left corner, finished them.

“We shot 47 percent, which isn’t a horrible number,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey said. “The problem for us was at the other end of the floor.”

The box score was suitable for framing. Wiltjer, despite some foul trouble, had 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting. The Zags had 20 assists, and nobody in white had more than the 7-1 Karnowski’s four. White and Uthoff had a combined 39 points for Iowa but a manageable 12 by the half.

When it was done, the Zags became a body-bumping mosh in front of their bench, and they’d scratched a five-year itch, when they’d gotten past their opening game but went home after the second.

“If anybody said they weren’t tired of (hearing) that, they’d be lying to you,” said Bell, the senior from Kentridge High. “I know I had a chip on my shoulder.”

After a boffo Sunday afternoon, though, the Zags no longer had a monkey on their back.

Sweet, but Elite?
Gonzaga advanced to the Sweet 16 for the sixth time since starting its current run of NCAA tournament appearances in the 1998-99 season. But it has only broken through to the Elite Eight once, in 1999.
Year Round of 32 result Next game
2015 Beat Iowa, 87-68 UCLA on Friday
2009 Beat W. Kentucky, 83-81 Lost to UNC, 98-77
2006 Beat Indiana, 90-80 Lost to UCLA, 73-71
2001 Beat Indiana St., 85-68 Lost to Michigan St., 77-62
2000 Beat St. John’s 82-76 Lost to Purdue, 75-66
1999 Beat Stanford, 82-74 Beat Florida, 73-72