SALT LAKE CITY – Gonzaga’s game against NCAA Tournament darling Northwestern went from sleeper to classic. But the top-seeded Bulldogs held off the Wildcats just long enough to escape Salt Lake City with an 79-73 victory.
The Bulldogs made just 23-of-36 free throws, but made 7-of-10 in the final 40 seconds to preserve their lead. Killian Tillie made 5-of-6 of his free throw attempts in the game’s final minute.
Northwestern appeared overpowered through much of the first half and trailed 38-20 at halftime. But the Wildcats were the better team for the game’s final 20 minutes, and for GU the game was all about surviving.
Vic Law’s putback dunk with 5:29 left in the game cut a formerly 22-point lead down to a razor-thin five-point cushion and turned the last nonpartisans in the arena into Wildcats fans.
Northwestern refused to go quietly. The Wildcats forced five turnovers in the second half’s first four minutes, forcing GU coach Mark Few to call timeout after Sanjay Lumpkin’s steal and dunk cut GU’s lead to 44-29 with 16:01 remaining.
GU looked out of sorts defensively after the turnovers and committed five fouls, some of them necessary to stop quick transition buckets by the Wildcats.
Jordan Mathews began the second-half scoring with a 3-pointer that was promptly answered by one from Northwestern forward Vic Law.
Once the Wildcats cut GU’s lead to 44-29 there were three timeouts in just 0:16 of game time. Then Law drained a 3-pointer, which was answered by a 3 from Nigel Williams-Goss.
While GU was able to answer NU’s runs with big shots of their own – Zach Collins’ consecutive three-point-plays to put GU up 53-34 proved critical to halting the Wildcats’ comeback – each big basket by the underdogs energized a staunchly partisan crowd.
NU had never appeared in the NCAA Tournament before this year, and seemingly the entire Wildcats diaspora descended on Salt Lake City this weekend to watch the Wildcats get their first taste of March Madness.
The crowd was largely quieted in the first half as the Bulldogs dunked and alley-ooped their way to a commanding lead early in the game.
But the NU cheering section seemed to fill the arena when a pair of 3-pointers cut GU’s lead to 59-50 with 8:25 left in the game. The Bulldogs went more than five minutes without a field goal, only holding the Wildcats off because of six points at the free throw line during that span.
Nigel Williams-Goss led GU with 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists. Jordan Matthew and Collins each added 14 points apiece.
This story will be updated following postgame press conferences.