ANAHEIM, Calif. – Leading up to the game, the focus was on how Gonzaga would respond to the athleticism of Florida State. After all, the Zags were pushed around in last year’s Sweet 16 matchup, letting FSU control every inch of the hardwood.
What a difference a year makes: The Zags bullied FSU 72-58 on Thursday at the Honda Center, advancing to the Elite Eight for the third time in five seasons.
Going 10 players deep and playing in the Atlantic Coast Conference proved troublesome for the Bulldogs in 2018, but this year produced a different result.
The early season gantlet of Duke, Tennessee and North Carolina provided GU with much-needed preparation for a slugfest. Even if the UNC game ended more lopsided, the Zags pulled important nuggets out of all three.
“We saw early on Tennessee and North Carolina who were physical and athletic on both the offensive and defensive end, and I think it prepared us a lot,” Norvell Jr. said. “And also, us taking those losses, we understood what it took to come out with a game like that, you want to bring the fight to them and be more physical for 40 minutes.”
The Zags knocked the Seminoles around Thursday, grabbing more rebounds and matching the Seminoles’ intensity. GU jumped out to an early lead and never relinquished it, withstanding every body blow FSU would land.
“I thought Gonzaga did a really good job early on in the half in the first part of the game, first half of managing the game a lot better than we did,” FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said.
Adding Brandon Clarke – who blocked five shots against a bigger FSU team – helped protect a rim the Seminoles have been good at attacking. For him, it was more GU playing their game and not letting the Seminoles control the fight.
“Yeah, I mean, it’s always tough when you’re playing a player that’s 7-foot-4, so that just always kind of has you second-guessing when you’re driving the lane, really,” Clarke said.
Clarke viewed saw last season’s NCAA Tournament loss from his couch, so he saw a different perspective, but he saw a team not afraid of FSU’s athleticism on Thursday.
“But I feel like this year, we weren’t really (being hesitant) and we were just, you know, going in strong and just playing the game that we always play, really,” he said. “But, yes, they are really, really physical, and it just kind of showe tonight.”
The other key cog who watched all 40 minutes last year was junior forward Killian Tillie. Just before the tip he was ruled out, and he watched FSU dominate the paint.
“They’re a physical team, it was important to be physical too, and hit them too, and I think we did a pretty good job,” Tillie said. “We knew they were going to be physical, so we changed our mentality and go right at them, and also be physical on them on defense and not let them have easy shots and catches, so that’s what we did.”
Crandall plays season-low eight minutes
Geno Crandall played just over seven minutes in the first half and then followed that up with only 30 seconds late in the second half for a season-low eight minutes.
“Just kind of the way it goes,” Few said. “It would have been great to get him in there more. (Josh) Perkins was feeling good, and then he had cramps early on and it was tough for Geno to figure it out. They’re a tough team. He needed to experience it, feel it. Obviously we have tons of confidence in him. We put him in with four minutes to go and he helped us there.”
Crandall had two turnovers and miss a contested layup in the first half that stalled the Zags.
“But this is not a team that you like your point guard driving in and finishing at the basket, because there are usually two 7-footers chasing you down, one chasing you down and the other waiting for you there,” Few said.
Part of the reason for Crandall seeing limited minutes also lies with the play of Perkins. FSU puts constant pressure on the ball handler and Perkins kept the offense grounded.
Crandall didn’t sound disappointed after the game, leaning on the final score as the more important factor.
“This is exactly where I wanted to be, and I think everybody in the room would say the same,” he said. “This is why you sign with the school and put the jersey on; playing big games like this and playing late in March.”
Florida State bus runs into pillar before game
As signs go, this one was probably a good indication it wasn’t going to be Florida State’s day.
One of Florida State’s team buses ran into a pillar outside of the entrance to the Red Lion Hotel Anaheim Resort.
The accident occurred at about 2 p.m. Thursday and caused a stir in front of the team hotel, but FSU players and coaches seemed to take it in stride. They were getting ready to leave for the Honda Center but hadn’t yet boarded the bus.
The team arrived in plenty of time for the 4:09 tipoff. The Seminoles were on the court ready for warm-ups several minutes before Gonzaga hit the court.
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