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Game coverage

Back with the game story and some notes from Gonzaga’s 98-77 loss to North Carolina on Friday. It was GU’s second worst NCAA Tournament loss. The Bulldogs fell to Maryland 87-63 in their first trip to the NCAAs in 1995.

Read on for unedited articles that will run in Saturday’s S-R.

 


First, the gamer…

By Jim Meehan

Staff writer

MEMPHIS – To put North Carolina’s explosive offense into perspective, consider that Gonzaga was shooting 85.7 percent – 85.7 percent – from the field roughly seven minutes into the first half and still trailed by three points.

When the fourth-seeded Bulldogs threatened to make a game of it in second half, the Tar Heels struck for two 3-pointers and two three-point plays in the span of 75 seconds.

Top-seeded North Carolina put on an offensive clinic, running up 53 points in the first half and leading by as many as 28 before settling for a 98-77 victory over the Bulldogs in the South Regional semifinals in front of 17,103 Friday at the FedExForum.

“They just did everything right,” GU senior center Josh Heytvelt said of UNC’s offense. “It was like an individual workout or an open gym where guys are just loose.”

“I’ve said all along if all 16 of us (in the Sweet 16) play at the top of our game, North Carolina wins the national championship,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “When they’re playing at their highest end, they’re better than the rest of us.”

“It seemed like they were playing with six guys,” sophomore forward Austin Daye said.

Gonzaga finished with a 28-6 record, one shy of the school record for single-season wins. The Bulldogs advanced to their fifth Sweet 16 in the last 11 seasons, but fell one win short of matching the 1999 team’s march to the Elite 8.

North Carolina (31-4) will meet second-seeded Oklahoma, which eliminated No. 3 Syracuse 84-71, in the Regional finals Sunday.

UNC junior point guard Ty Lawson, slowed in recent weeks by a toe injury, had a healthy stat line. He had 17 points in the first half on 6-of-7 shooting, including 3-of-4 3-pointers. He distributed more in the second half, picking up seven of his nine assists. He finished with 19 points in 27 minutes.

“He shot the ball well, made his open 3-pointers and he got his guys the ball in the right spots,” Gonzaga senior guard Jeremy Pargo said. “It wasn’t just him blowing past us getting layup after layup.”

Lawson had plenty of help from his teammates. Danny Green hit three 3s and totaled 13 points, seven assists and four steals. Wayne Ellington had 19 points, seven boards and four assists. Tyler Hansbrough scored 24 points and grabbed 10 rebounds. UNC’s talented bench chipped in 18 points.

“When Danny is hitting from the perimeter, I think we’ve got all our parts and we’re going,” Ellington said. “They have to respect me and Danny from the perimeter so we have a lot easier looks from the inside.”

About the only place the Tar Heels struggled was at the free-throw line. They heated up in the second half to finish at 55.6 percent.

Green’s 3 gave UNC an early 12-6 edge. By the 15-minute mark, the Tar Heels had 10 points off turnovers and a 19-12 advantage. Ellington’s three-point play hiked UNC’s lead to 29-18 and his free throw with 3:53 left made it a 17-point margin.

Steven Gray brought Gonzaga back with baskets on three straight possessions. Lawson’s two free throws restored North Carolina’s lead to 51-39, but Austin Daye’s 3-pointer narrowed the deficit to 51-42. Hansbrough’s power move resulted in an interior bucket and a 53-42 lead at half.

North Carolina opened the second half with a 13-3 spurt to build a 66-45 lead. Gonzaga clawed back as Pargo, who had a team-high 16 points, had back-to-back baskets and later converted a turnover into a layup as GU closed within 68-57 with 12:32 remaining.

The Tar Heels answered as reserve guard Bobby Frasor, a 26-percents shooter from beyond the arc, drained two straight 3s, Ellington finished on the break while getting fouled and Hansbrough capped the run with a layup while being fouled by Heytvelt.

“Bobby’s 3s were kind of the back-breaker,” Pargo said.

Gonzaga didn’t have its best night offensively, but the Bulldogs still shot 46.6 percent from the field and nearly reached their season average of 79 points. Heytvelt had 14 points, Micah Downs 12 and Daye 10. Matt Bouldin was limited to seven points – seven below his season average – on 3-of-10 shooting.

But the Zags had no defensive answers for the Tar Heels, who made 53 percent of their shots, 58 percent of their 3s.

“That’s probably the best basketball any team has played all year,” Heytvelt said. “We’re not a bad defensive team. They penetrated, kicked it out and hit basically every shot. They’d come in (the lane) and we’d foul the heck out of them and the ball would still go in the hoop.”

Now, the notebook….

By Jim Meehan and John Blanchette

Staff writers

MEMPHIS – Sitting together in the stands at FedExForum for the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 were a Zag and a Tar Heel who met … at a Cougar game?

Only in sports, sports fans.

John Egger is a 1971 Gonzaga graduate and long-time basketball season ticket holder from Colville who had to carve out some space in a phalanx of Bulldog fans Friday night for an interloper from North Carolina – his wife, Dianne, a ’74 Tar Heel who came decked out in Carolina blue and holding somewhat mixed feelings.

“I really have captured an affinity for Gonzaga – how could you not?” she said. “You’ve got to love them – except tonight.”

And Egger is OK with the Tar Heels, too – especially since he’s been able to tweak his wife and Carolina friends about Gonzaga’s 82-74 victory in the teams’ first meeting in Madison Square Garden back in November 2006.

“I’ve actually kind of been dreading this,” Egger laughed, referring to Friday’s rematch. “Not that Gonzaga can’t win, but it’s been nice being able ask people, ‘How did that game turn out?’ the last couple of years.”

The Eggers have lived in Hillsborough in Carolina’s Triangle for the past six  years, but met in a decidedly improbable way – and place.

Egger was combining a morning of pheasant hunting on the Palouse with an afternoon Washington State football game in Pullman several years ago. Afterward, a friend cajoled him into a drink at The Coug (“Couldn’t we go someplace where there might actually be women our age?” Egger wondered). Dianne Cates, then a technical director for ABC Sports in town to work the football game, asked if she could join them.

One thing, as they say, led to another and they were eventually married in October 2002. Egger figured they’d make their home in Colville, but didn’t take into account one thing.

“She’s 10th generation Carolinian,” he said. “I wasn’t winning that one.”

So they attend the odd Carolina or Duke game, and Egger still keeps his season tickets behind the visitors bench at McCarthey Athletic Center – getting back for one or two games a year (they’ve even made it back to The Coug to relive a happy memory).  And if the Zags aren’t involved, he has no trouble pulling for her Tar Heels.

“Win or lose,” said Egger, “I’m staying for the game Sunday.”

Swan song for seniors

Gonzaga’s five seniors – Josh Heytvelt, Jeremy Pargo, Micah Downs, Ira Brown and Andrew Sorenson – didn’t get the send-off they were looking for as North Carolina rolled to a 98-77 victory.

“It was tough,” said Pargo, who led Gonzaga with 16 points. “I wish we could have gone out in a battle instead of going out the way we did, but things happen.”

Downs had 12 points, four rebounds and three of GU’s six steals.

“As soon as that buzzer sounded it was kind of a crappy, dull feeling,” he said. “No more basketball in the Kennel, I’m going to miss it big-time. I’m going to miss Spokane, my fans, my teammates, coaches, everybody. It’s something that’s the best experience of a kid’s career.”

Speedy recovery

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said Ty Lawson’s sprained toe began feeling better after a couple pool workouts on Thursday night and Friday morning. Lawson scored 19 points and handed out 9 assists.

“That was really helpful to him,” Williams said of the pool workouts. “We took him out at one point because he turned his other ankle a little bit. We were able to get by with him only playing 27 minutes.”

Lawson, the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year, had missed three games before returning to score 23 points in last Saturday’s win over LSU.

“In some instances, I think the toe injury might have helped him,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “He’s playing at a great pace right now. He’s not forcing anything. He got in the lane a couple times where he was closely guarded and we shut down option one, option two, option three, and he was under control and found option four wide open on the back side of our defense.”

Tar Heels impressive

North Carolina wasn’t the overall top seed in the NCAA Tournament, but the Tar Heels showed why they might be the favorite to claim their second title in five years.

“Lawson was phenomenal, (Wayne) Ellington, (Tyler) Hansbrough was a beast like he always is,” Downs said. “We couldn’t get stops – that’s what it came down to.”

Sophomore forward Austin Daye said North Carolina was probably the most talented team GU faced this season. The Bulldogs lost to No. 1-seeded Connecticut and second-seeded Memphis during the regular season.

Arizona had three NBA players guaranteed, but beside them, I don’t think we’ve played a team that is so surrounded with great players,” Daye said. “It’s not only their starting five, but their bench is very good. It was tough to slow them down when they’re making runs like that.”

 

 

 


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Jim Allen (@srjimallen) Sports reporter Jim Allen's primary coverage areas are Eastern Washington University football and men's basketball, and college and high school soccer. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Jim Meehan (@srjimm) Jim Meehan's coverage areas include Gonzaga University men's basketball, Spokane Shock football, golf and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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Chris Derrick Chris Derrick is a sports reporter. His primary coverage areas are the Spokane Chiefs, Spokane Indians, women's basketball and high school softball and volleyball. He also contributes to the SportsLink Blog.

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John Blanchette (@SRjblanchette) John Blanchette is a freelance writer who covers the University of Idaho football team and men's basketball team.

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