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Analysis: Gonzaga turns tables on Florida State, advances to Elite Eight with 72-58 victory

UPDATED: Thu., March 28, 2019, 10:41 p.m.

Gonzaga  forward Rui Hachimura, right, embraces forward Brandon Clarke  after the Bulldogs defeated Florida State 72-58 in Thursday’s Sweet 16 game  at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura, right, embraces forward Brandon Clarke after the Bulldogs defeated Florida State 72-58 in Thursday’s Sweet 16 game at the Honda Center in Anaheim, Calif. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Gonzaga pretty much did to Florida State on Thursday what the Seminoles did to the Zags last year in the NCAA Tournament.

The Zags won the physical battle, no easy task against a tall, bruise-inflicting opponent. Their defense stifled FSU’s primary weapons, and they were resourceful on offense with Brandon Clarke and Zach Norvell Jr. delivering clutch points in a nervy closing stretch.

Top-seeded Gonzaga handled the fourth-seeded Seminoles 72-58 at the Honda Center, essentially making the turnaround complete with a score similar to FSU’s 75-60 victory last season.

Gonzaga (33-3) moved into the Elite Eight for the third time in five years. The Zags will face No. 3 Texas Tech at 3:09 p.m. Saturday.

They got there with defense and determination down the stretch, somewhat new wrinkles from the season-long script of record-setting offense and blowout victories.

“Being physical and getting stops,” Clarke said. “They were struggling to score at the end.”

For most of the game, actually. The Seminoles (29-8) had one reliable weapon, guard Trent Forrest and his slick drives and finishes. The rest of the Seminoles made 16 of 50 shots (32 percent).

“Great job defensively, great job in transition, great job on the glass,” coach Mark Few said. “We were experimenting offensively, trying to find what worked, and we’d find something and they usually choked it off. But defense was consistent all night.”

Still, FSU applied the heat, oddly with a surge that followed three Gonzaga possessions capped by dunks. The Seminoles cut the deficit to 60-56, a tense situation Gonzaga made more uncomfortable by missing the front end of two 1-and-1s.

The Zags fed Rui Hachimura, who drew two defenders and kicked a pass out to Zach Norvell Jr., the sophomore wing who has a knack for canning clutch shots. Norvell’s 3 with 3:06 left gave GU a 63-56 lead.

“I figured they were going to double down on Rui, with how big and explosive he is,” said Norvell, who made four 3s and scored 14 points. “I had my feet ready and I was able to make a big shot.”

Clarke, who guarded Forrest down the stretch and kept the Seminoles’ guard in check, hit a pair of free throws and added a layup, extending Gonzaga’s lead to 67-58 with 1:15 remaining.

Clarke produced 15 points – seven to help nurse the Zags’ offense out of a second-half lull – 12 rebounds and five blocks.

“It was trust,” he said of his contributions in the closing minutes. “Knowing that even if we missed shots or got shots blocked, we were going to get them back, and having that team focus to keep fighting when times got down.”

It wasn’t a masterpiece, but there was little chance of that against the Seminoles, who rank 10th in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency. The Zags stuck with it and found the balance that has made them difficult to defend all season. They scored 30 points in the paint behind Clarke and Hachimura, who finished with 17 points, and 21 points from beyond the 3-point line.

Gonzaga struggled mightily in both areas in last year’s meeting.

“They deny entry passes, climb up into you and mess up your entire offense,” said Perkins, who had 14 points, five assists and three steals. “We played through the 5-man (Hachimura or Clarke), had some success on high pick-and-rolls. We made more right plays than wrong plays.”

The Zags made a ton of plays on the defensive end. Forrest, who averages 9 points, scored 20, but leading scorer Mfiondu Kabengele (13.4) managed just eight points. Terance Mann, who scored 18 against the Zags last year, made one field goal and had five points.

“They try to create driving lanes for (Mann),” Gonzaga wing Corey Kispert said. “He likes to go to his right hand. For us, it was taking away his right, and having second and third guys in the gaps.”

Gonzaga’s defense took control in the first half. FSU managed just 10 field goals while committing nine turnovers.

Hachimura and Perkins both had 10 points in the opening half. Perkins’ steal and three-point play at the end of the half gave Gonzaga a 38-27 advantage.

Perkins enjoyed the play a little too much. Perkins and the Seminoles’ M.J. Walker exchanged words and both were whistled for technical fouls.

Perkins thoroughly enjoyed Gonzaga’s defensive effort. Florida State was 3 of 20 on 3-pointers and attempted only 11 free throws. The Seminoles’ size advantage didn’t translate to the boards. Gonzaga won the glass 45-36 and had a 17-4 edge in second-chance points.

“The switches were there, the contests on 3-pointers were there, rebounds were there,” Perkins said.

“We did everything we had to do. Tough team we played, a physical team, but defense is what matters at this time.”

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