SAN JOSE, Calif. – The first foul was called 20 seconds in and the whistles just kept coming, interrupting any chance for flow or rhythm on the court.
So many fouls piled up, Gonzaga turned to a zone defense that had been on the shelf for a while. Turns out the zone was about as good as the Zags’ man-to-man has been all season.
The top-seeded Zags got it done with defense again, stifling fourth-seeded West Virginia 61-58 in a bruising, foul-infested NCAA tournament affair on Thursday in front of 16,884 at the SAP Center.
Gonzaga (35-1), which matched the school record for single-season wins, advanced to its third Elite Eight and the second in three years. The Zags will face 11th-seeded Xavier on Saturday at 3:09 p.m. for a spot in the Final Four.
Xavier finished on a 12-2 run to rally past second-seeded Arizona 73-71.
“When your defensive numbers are 1 or 2 in the country you’ve been doing a lot of things right, but (zone) has always been good for us in the NCAA tournament,” coach Mark Few said. “We were in massive foul trouble. They were just putting their heads down and driving against us in our man.”
Gonzaga limited the fourth-seeded Mountaineers (28-9) to 26.7-percent shooting. WVU had just seven assists and 13 turnovers.
“We had a shoot-around (Thursday) and made every shot,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. “We just didn’t make them. Their size bothers everybody around the rim. When you’re driving at the goal and you run into a 7-1, 300-and-whatever-he-is (Przemek Karnowski), it’s hard to score.”
Still, the Zags needed some offense to overcome West Virginia’s 58-55 lead with 1:40 remaining. It came in the form of two Nigel Williams-Goss free throws and Jordan Mathews’ clutch 3-pointer to put Gonzaga up 60-58 with 57 seconds remaining.
Three keys to Gonzaga’s 61-58 victory over West Virginia for a berth in Saturday’s Elite Eight
Tarik Phillip misfired in the lane and Gonzaga’s Silas Melson was fouled after grabbing the rebound. He hit one free throw to put Gonzaga up by three.
Gonzaga went back to man-to-man on West Virginia’s final possession. Jevon Carter, hounded by Williams-Goss, missed two 3-point attempts but the Mountaineers, who stung the Zags throughout by dominating the offensive boards, tracked down another rebound.
Carter dribbled around on the perimeter and fired a last-second pass to Daxter Miles Jr., who wasn’t able to get a shot off before time expired.
“My offense wasn’t really going,” said Williams-Goss, who scored 10 points on 2-of-10 shooting. “We knew coming in (Carter) takes a lot of their big shots. I live for moments like that, doing whatever I have to do to get a win. Tonight it was getting a big stop.”
Johnathan Williams, Karnowski and Mathews took care of the offense. They each scored 13 points for Gonzaga, which made 40.9 percent from the field. The Zags’ 61 points equaled a season low (Akron).
By the numbers: Take a numerical look at how the Zags and Mountaineers stacked up on Thursday evening
The Mountaineers scored 21 points at the free-throw line, 24 off Gonzaga’s 16 turnovers and 19 on second-chance points.
“Whoever shot, they sent two or three guys to that weak side and sometimes they got those rebounds,” Karnowski said. “They won the offensive boards for sure. Right now that doesn’t matter, but we have to make sure we take care of it in the next game.”
“Every single time a shot went up, there was a lot of banging and hitting,” Williams said. “You just had to be tough down there. They’re a tough team but we were able to make a couple plays down the stretch.”
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