PITTSBURGH – Any questions about how Gonzaga’s freshman backcourt would handle the NCAA tournament spotlight were answered in less than 3 minutes when Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. combined for the Bulldogs’ first eight points.
Any questions about the impact of a pro-West Virginia crowd went away when the Bulldogs simply didn’t give the Mountaineers’ faithful much to cheer.
Any questions about how the Bulldogs would handle West Virginia’s physical presence on the boards were answered all game long.
“We just got out-toughed,” Mountaineers senior guard Darryl ‘Truck’ Bryant shrugged.
Seventh-seeded Gonzaga worked over No. 10 West Virginia from start to finish, rolling to a surprisingly easy 77-54 second-round win in front of 19,413 Thursday at Consol Energy Center. The 23-point margin was Gonzaga’s second largest in the NCAA tournament, behind a 76-49 victory over Valparaiso in 2004. GU’s 56-percent shooting was its third best performance in 31 NCAA games.
Pangos and Bell combined for 25 first-half points, outscoring West Virginia’s team as Gonzaga took control 40-22. By the end, Gonzaga’s balance had taken over with senior center Robert Sacre and Bell each scoring 14 points, Pangos finishing with 13 and Elias Harris adding 10, despite playing just 4 minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls. Eleven Zags scored.
“Me, Gary and ‘Spangs’ (Ryan Spangler) just tried to be aggressive and tried not to think about the moment too much,” said Pangos, who also had five assists and two steals. “There’s a bit more media and people talking about, ‘Oh, this is your first time in the tournament,’ but really it’s just basketball.”
And it was some of the best the Bulldogs have played this season. Gonzaga (26-6), which will face No. 2 Ohio State on Saturday, shut down West Virginia’s one-two combination of Kevin Jones and Bryant. They average 37 points, but Jones was limited to 13 points on 5-of-14 shooting and Bryant, after missing his first six shots, finished with just nine points.
“That’s probably one of the best jobs a team has done on me,” said Jones, whose four rebounds were a season low. “They were surrounding me whenever I got the ball.”
Gonzaga wanted to force West Virginia to take perimeter shots and then seal off Jones, the nation’s top offensive rebounder, and his teammates from crashing the glass. At halftime the Mountaineers had four offensive boards and one second-chance point.
“That was kind of the game plan, to help off some of the non-shooters and help on Jones whenever he got the ball,” Bell said. “Swarm him and make him kick it out. We made sure we boxed them out because that’s how they get a lot of their points.”
Gonzaga was outnumbered in the stands, but it looked the other way on the court. The Bulldogs led 14-10 when West Virginia’s offense took a long nap. Bell, Pangos, Guy Landry Edi and David Stockton contributed to a 13-0 run that stretched GU’s lead to 27-10.
The Mountaineers went more than 6 minutes without scoring before Jones’ scored on a layup. WVU made two field goals – both by Jones on back-to-back possessions – in the final 14:30 of the half. The Mountaineers were rim bruisers, making just 23 percent from the field.
Gonzaga got quality bench minutes from Stockton (four points), Spangler (five rebounds) and Mike Hart kept an offensive rebound alive, leading to Sacre’s first field goal with 3:19 remaining.
“Mark (Few, Gonzaga coach) told me that’s the best they’ve shot the ball all year,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “This is the worst defensive team I’ve ever had in 30 years. We don’t get help, we don’t get loose balls. … They shoot 56 percent, that’s never happened, no matter how well somebody played.”
The second half was more of the same as Gonzaga led by 26 after Harris banked in a 3-pointer with 13:30 remaining. West Virginia never mounted a serious challenge.
“There was so many of their fans here, but we came out fast and started hot,” Spangler said. “They were loud at some points, but we didn’t hear much from them.”