April 24, 2017

Gonzaga turns Press Virginia on its head and survives

25 March 2017, 12:40 | Sue Hudson

Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports

Thomas Joseph-USA TODAY Sports

Coaches will tell you there is nothing more lovely than winning ugly, especially in a moment as significant as the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament, a step Gonzaga advanced from Thursday night by outslugging West Virginia 61-58 at the SAP Center.

Those are just some of the words being tossed around to describe the final possession of the West Virginia Mountaineers' season.

But Jevon Carter missed two 3-pointers in the final seconds and the Mountaineers failed to get a third attempt off in time. Daxter Miles Jr. scored 18 while Ahmad and Elijah Macon each added 11. The team wanted more, especially after last year's demise in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. The press and 3-point shooting can limit the impact of Gonzaga center Przemek Karnowski, who is averaging 12.4 points, but isn't the most mobile player left in the tournament field. Matthews will knock down some threes to help extend Gonzaga's lead.

Gonzaga is on to the Elite Eight where it will face the victor of Arizona and Xavier. The Zags handled West Virginia's backcourt pressure well enough, but turnovers in the half court led to 24 points. With the second game, its just enough time for our guys to rest up but not almost enough time for our opponents to prepare for the press and I think that's definitely what you saw with Bucknell and Notre Dame.

Huggins erupted. He flew off the bench, raced down the sideline, grabbed Teyvon Myers and the towel Myers had on his back, and practically flung him to the scorer's table, just before screaming at his players: "GO GET THE BALL!"

He made one three-pointer from the wing and followed with another from the corner on Gonzaga's next possession.

He hadn't taken a shot in almost 15 minutes of game time, probably 40 in real time. But against the Mountaineers, Gonzaga had to adapt and find a way to survive the toughest opponent they'd faced since beating Florida in late November. He already had four three-pointers on the night and he was the only Mountaineer with 20 points - he was the only West Virginia with even ten points.

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With a little less than five minutes left in the first half of Thursday's Sweet 16 matchup against West Virginia, the Gonzaga big man hauled in a rebound on his own end and duly initiated the protocol of the outlet pass. He drained a three and picked up his 11 point to give the Zags a 21-16 lead at the 7:45 mark. The referees called 51 fouls, creating a parade to the foul line in which both teams combined to shoot 61 free throws.

Everything WVU threw up was challenged by a Gonzaga defense that is ranked as the nation's most efficient, and when it went to a zone for the final 7 or so minutes, its players in foul trouble, that really left WVU staggering around unable to do anything.

West Virginia seemed to have all the time in the world, but somehow, ran out the clock without shooting the ball anywhere near the basket. Teams nearly never get a wide open first shot against the Zags.

"I think the gap's going to get bigger and bigger", he predicted.

What: Gonzaga vs. West Virginia in the Sweet 16.

Gonzaga would wrestle back the lead with under a minute left on a insane sequence that ended with a Jordan Mathews three-pointer. They were 15 of 20 in the first half, meaning they got as many points during the action as they did during the pauses within.

The ball went back to Carter, who again tried to play the hero. "If the 'Zags had lost - which it appeared they might when the Mountaineers took a three-point lead in the final two minutes - they'd have heard yet another round of 'fraud" this and "overrated" that.

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