March 16, 2012 in Sports

Gonzaga guarding against repeating history

By The Spokesman-Review
Christopher Anderson photo

Gonzaga coach Mark Few laughs when asked about the outgoing personality of GU center Rob Sacre. The Zags are preparing to take on powerhouse Ohio State in the third round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday. Game time is approximately 11:45 a.m. on CBS.
(Full-size photo)

Gonzaga’s keys to victory

The Bulldogs will need to duplicate the defensive effort they summoned Thursday bottling up West Virginia’s offense, but Ohio State has more scoring options and better perimeter shooters. Gonzaga will concentrate on trying to limit touches for 6-foot-9, 265-pound sophomore forward Jared Sullinger, who is bigger and stronger than West Virginia’s Kevin Jones. GU figures to change up its defensive looks (digging down with guards, doubling post to post), but its first priority is center Robert Sacre trying to evict Sullinger from the low block. A bigger chore for Gonzaga could be solving Ohio State’s defense. The Buckeyes limit opponents to 40.6 percent shooting and 59.1 points (13th nationally), and they usually do it without getting into foul trouble. Gonzaga had a near ideal mix of inside-outside scoring with guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. and forward Elias Harris and Sacre reaching double figures against WVU. Aaron Craft, the Big Ten defensive player of the year, likely will guard Pangos, who made 5 of 7 shots, including 2 of 4 3-pointers, in Thursday’s win.

Ohio State’s keys to victory

The Buckeyes beat Loyola-Maryland by 19 on Thursday, but they didn’t sound too pleased in post-game interviews because they committed 18 turnovers and endured some errant shooting. Deshaun Thomas carried the offense with a career-high 31 points, but his teammates made just 13 of 36 field-goal attempts. Ohio State relies heavily on Sullinger (17.4), Thomas (15.8), William Buford (14.8) and Aaron Craft (8.6 points, 4.5 assists). Sullinger has seen nearly every type of defense out there the last two years, so he’s used to adjusting during games. The Buckeyes do what most Top 10 teams do: They’re outstanding defensively, they’re multi-dimensional offensively, they pound the boards (plus-6.5 per game) and they take care of the ball (17th in turnover margin, plus-3.4 per game). If they continue to do those things, they’re well positioned for a deep tournament run.

PITTSBURGH – If it seems like the Gonzaga Bulldogs have been here before it’s because, well, they have.

In the 2011 NCAA tournament, No. 11-seeded Gonzaga dismantled No. 6 St. John’s by 15 only to get crushed by No. 3 BYU by 22 points. In 2010, the eighth-seeded Bulldogs shut down No. 9 Florida State, becoming the first team to shoot at least 50 percent against the Seminoles in 67 games, only to get squashed by No. 1 Syracuse in the next round by 22.

So here comes the seventh-seeded Bulldogs (26-6), fresh from a 77-54 rout over West Virginia, facing powerhouse No. 2 seed Ohio State (28-7) Saturday at Consol Energy Center in the third round, trying to find the formula for back-to-back success. Buckeyes’ fans were prominent in Thursday’s win over Loyola-Maryland and more figure to make the 185-mile drive from Columbus to snatch up tickets from departing Mountaineers’ followers.

“The last couple years we’ve had great first-round wins and the second game was lacking,” said junior forward Elias Harris. “It’s our mindset. We need to stay focused, tough and with the game plan.”

Counting a 21-point drubbing to eventual national champion North Carolina in 2009 Sweet Sixteen, Gonzaga has exited the last three tournaments with lopsided losses.

It was the first question posed to senior center Robert Sacre following Thursday’s win. “You don’t forget games like that (BYU). When you lose one, it’s heartbreaking. You take it with you the rest of your life.”

Head coach Mark Few had an eye on Saturday’s game shortly after beating West Virginia.

“We did a wonderful job of taking the scouting report and executing it,” Few said. “Now we have to do the same thing. They get it. They’re not satisfied.”

The Ohio State game plan centers on bulky center Jared Sullinger, a double-double machine who likes to operate in the low post. West Virginia had a similar interior presence in Kevin Jones, but Sullinger poses more problems and he has a better supporting cast. Deshaun Thomas struck for 31 points against Loyola-Maryland.

“If Jones was the best offensive rebounder in the country, Sullinger is right there and he’s 40 pounds heavier,” said Bulldogs assistant coach Ray Giacoletti, who helped compile the scouting report. “He wedges you out as well as anyone we’ve seen, but they have a big-time scorer (in William Buford) and Thomas can score. They have three guys that can score in a variety of ways and it’s not like the other two can’t – (Aaron) Craft and (Lenzelle) Smith Jr.”

Sacre will probably defend Sullinger, who was just 4 of 14 and missed a dunk versus Loyola-Maryland.

“I was so determined to make a quick move before the double-team came, I think that’s what made me mess up a couple of my shots,” Sullinger said. “I need to bounce back.”

There are several intriguing matchups: Sacre-Sullinger, Harris-Thomas, Kevin Pangos-Aaron Craft. Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. led Gonzaga’s early charge Thursday. Craft has 85 steals and was named the Big Ten’s defensive player of the year. Giacoletti emphasized that Craft does a tremendous job away from the ball.

“I’ll just try to do the same things I’ve always done, be aggressive, not be too passive, try to get the team into a steady offense,” Pangos said. “I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

Same goes for the Bulldogs in a third-round game.

“We have experience now and we don’t want to let up,” Sacre said. “This is going to be a true challenge, but I’m thinking it’s a great challenge for us. We’re hungry for it. This is what we wanted.”

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