“People don’t ask about the labor pains,” my dad used to say. “All they want to do is see the baby.”
But what if everyone agrees the baby, in this case Gonzaga’s 61-58 NCAA Sweet 16 victory over West Virginia, was as ugly as they come?
Hey, don’t take my word for the unsightly nature of this one.
“That’s how you build character,” TBS game analyst Chris Webber explained. “(You) win ugly games. You fight through it.”
We will get back to the “it” Webber was referring to, but before we get there, we have to acknowledged Ernie Johnson’s description of Thursday night’s anti-masterpiece.
“You won’t see this game hanging in an art gallery anywhere,” is how Johnson described it.
We get it. Any game that includes 29 turnovers, 70 missed shots, 61 free throws and innumerable delays, can’t be labeled a beauty.
And little of what viewers at home had to endure could be called pleasing either.
Webber and his TBS play-by-play partner Brian Anderson struggled to describe what they were seeing in San Jose, mainly because they didn’t seem all that invested in the narrative of this 35-1 Gonzaga team.
Oh, they seemed to know just about everything there was to know about “Press Virginia” and its veteran coach Bob Huggins, but when the Mountaineers’ first-half pressure disrupted Gonzaga’s usual flow, they seemed at a loss to explain the Zags’ out-of-character decisions.
To whit, when Gonzaga seemed hellbent on attacking the rim and got away from their pass-first offense, no one noticed they had just three assists in the opening half. The Zags average 15.6 per game.
By the numbers: Take a numerical look at how the Zags and Mountaineers stacked up on Thursday evening
When Rui Hachimura entered the game with 9 minutes left in the first half, it took Anderson a while to notice the uncommon occurrence. And Jeremy Jones last-minute appearance may have gone unnoticed if he had not committed a foul.
When the Zags went to a 2-3 zone 4 minutes before intermission, Anderson and Webber mentioned it, but failed to convey any sense of its rarity, especially the second half of the season.
(To be fair, Seth Davis, back in the TBS studio, at halftime did cite a statistic Gonzaga had played zone less than 10 percent of the time.)
Mark Few took care of one of the oversights before heading to the locker room, telling bow-tie legend Lewis Johnson – woefully underused Thursday – foul trouble forced GU to have “some lineups we haven’t had to play all year.”
Like the game itself, Anderson and Webber rallied in the second half.
But they weren’t joined by the other partners who helped make the game a hideous mess: Jamie Luckie, Lamont Simpson and Eric Curry.
One of the story lines this NCAA Tournament has been the inconsistent officiating, to use a kind term. National observers from ESPN’s Michael Wilbon to Yahoo’s Pat Forde took to the airwaves to wonder what the problem was.
The reasons were simple in this one. West Virginia’s pressure includes lots of hand checks, slaps and body blows. Gonzaga’s defense, one of the nation’s best statistically, struggled with the Mountaineers’ athleticism and size at the wing. The result was a game with lots of contact and a corresponding number of whistles. Followed by even more whistles.
Heck there was even an inadvertent one. Though it took a 6-minute replay delay to determine it. Those of us at home – and Webber – figured it out in 30 seconds.
The whistle came with 1:59 to play and the game tied at 55. The fans booed as the replay wore on and Webber, seemed emboldened, saying, “Thank you fans, I’m with you.”
It also seemed to help him find his voice, because when Jordan Mathews hit the biggest 3-pointer of his career, putting the Zags up two with 59 seconds left, Webber exploded. Clapping could also be heard as West Virginia headed back down court, though it is impossible to tell if it was the former Michigan star.
Three keys to Gonzaga’s 61-58 victory over West Virginia for a berth in Saturday’s Elite Eight
What we could tell, after a West Virginia miss and a Silas Melson free throw, the Mountaineers had a chance to tie in the final 36.9 seconds. But two 3-pointers missed – the first did not hit the rim but the 30-second shot reset, something no one noticed – and the last 3 came after the final buzzer.
The labor pains were over and Few was happy to welcome another Elite Eight berth into the world.
“First of all, West Virginia is about a tough and physical a team as we’ve played in years,” Few told Johnson postgame. “I’m talking about years. But you know what? The Zags are tough and physical, too. These guys know how to win.”
Ugly or not.