SEATTLE – There are few mysteries here.
Second-seeded Gonzaga wants to play up-tempo. In the half-court, the Zags want to play through their trio of bigs.
No. 15 North Dakota State is essentially the opposite. It wants to exhaust the shot clock and then put the ball in senior guard Lawrence Alexander’s hands to create for himself or teammates.
The Zags are taller, deeper. The Bison are shorter and usually stick to a seven-man rotation.
Favorite, meet underdog, tonight at approximately 6:50 at KeyArena.
“They’re a super scrappy bunch and they’re going to play hard,” Gonzaga junior forward Kyle Wiltjer said. “They’re pretty undersized, so hopefully we can post them hard and play our game. We’re going to play our game, no matter what tempo they do.”
For comparison sake, NDSU’s style is similar to San Diego, Pepperdine and Santa Clara. The Bison (23-9) won Summit League tournament games by scores of 61-50, 60-56 and 57-56.
“We’re going to be outmatched in size, but we have to find different ways,” Bison coach Dave Richman said. “One-on-one, yeah, they probably get the better of us, but we’re going to play 5-on-5.”
Gonzaga, which claimed WCC tournament wins by scores of 81-72, 79-61 and 91-75, ranks among the nation’s most efficient offenses.
“It can be hard (to speed them up),” Kevin Pangos said, “but we just have to play really aggressive and when we have opportunities, push the tempo and take whatever they gives us.”
The Zags (32-2) are beginning what they hope will be a lengthy tournament trek, but they got several reminders Thursday of March Madness at its best. Before practice, they watched a few minutes of UAB’s upset of South Region third seed Iowa State and caught a glimpse of No. 11 UCLA, which knocked off No. 6 SMU on a goaltending call of a 3-pointer in the closing seconds.
“It definitely shows you anything is possible,” senior guard Byron Wesley said. “I think we already know what we need to do, but we just want to be the team that plays harder. In those (Iowa State and UCLA) games, the lower-seeded team played harder and came away with the win.”
Alexander, at 18.9 points per game, is NDSU’s leading scorer by seven points. Freshman A.J. Jacobson, an undersized ‘4’ at 6-foot-6, is next at 11.9 points. Gary Bell Jr. figures to draw the defensive assignment on Alexander.
The Bison try to control the pace at both ends of the floor.
“Alexander is probably more like a (Jared) Brownridge (from Santa Clara) with his ability to shoot off the bounce and he has a shifty handle,” said assistant coach Brian Michaelson, in charge of the NDSU scout. “They run a solid, pack-line defense, very good on close-outs and physical in the post with a couple of different doubling schemes. They can mix it up on ball-screen (coverage) because they have guys that are pretty similar.
“They’re going to pack it in and make you make jump shots.”
The Zags hope to establish Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis and Wiltjer inside.
“When we’re at our best is when Shem is playing really well,” coach Mark Few said. “They are a huge part of who we are. I put them up there with any bigs in college basketball.”
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