Cruisin to the third round
The Gonzaga Bulldogs (26-6) erupted on the West Virginia Mountaineers (19-14) by putting up 40 points in the first 20 minutes on their way to a 77-54 victory in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament.
Led by 14 apiece from senior Robert Sacre and freshman Gary Bell Jr., the Bulldogs out-muscled a physical Mountaineers squad, edging them 30-28 on the glass en route to their win. The Bulldogs led 40-22 at halftime with Kevin Pangos scoring 13 points and five assists and Elias Harris adding 10 points.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few has now reached the round of 32 for the fourth consecutive season. I loved how they did it, here’s why:
1). Shut Down Kevin Jones
Gonzaga junior Elias Harris and his WCC Defensive Player of the Year teammate manhandled West Virginia’s Kevin Jones from start to finish. The 6’8″ forward had 13 points and 4 rebounds despite being among the leaders in the Big East in scoring and rebounding at 20 and 11 per game.
2). Got to Darryl Bryant Early:
The guard has the ability to torch a team from the outside but Gonzaga did not allow him to find a rhythm. The guard was held to 2-10 shooting and recorded just 9 points despite averaging over 17 per game this year.
3). Balanced Offensive Attack:
Four Bulldog starters (Robert Sacre, Elias Harris, Gary Bell Jr., and Kevin Pangos) scored in double figures and led a balanced attack against the Mountaineers.
Coach Mark Few did not rely on just one player, which should pay dividends for the team’s confidence moving forward. The team also allowed the starters to rest as Harris played only 15 minutes in the contest.
1). Giving up Offensive Rebounds
The Bulldogs gave up 15 offensive rebounds to West Virginia, which accounted for an astronomical 53.5% of the Mountaineers’ total. Gonzaga’s next opponent, Ohio State, ranks in the top sixth in the country in rebounds (led by Jared Sullinger’s 9.3 per game), which means they will have a dogfight keeping the Buckeyes off the boards.
Giving up second chance points to a team that averages 75.1 points per game is a recipe for disaster.
When potential lottery pick chose Jared Sullinger chose to comeback the mission in Columbus was clear: National Championship or bust. Gonzaga will have their hands full against the Buckeyes, but there is reason for optimism.
The Mountaineers were favored by analysts all over the country and the Bulldogs beat them handily.
Sacre and Harris did a marvelous job guarding Kevin Jones, which was a great preview for what is in store with Sullinger in the third round.
Gonzaga must capture huge offensive performances from both Pangos and Bell Jr. (likely 18-20 points apiece) in addition to what Harris and Sacre provided against West Virginia, to knock off the Buckeyes.
If Mark Few can somehow coax all of this from his team, the game will have all of the elements of another Cinderella run.