Gonzaga. Florida State. For the second time in two years, the Zags and Seminoles met in a Sweet 16 battle in Southern California.
Last year, FSU locked down the Bulldogs’ offense and won by 15. Thursday night in Anaheim, California, Mark Few’s team turned the tables and won 72-58 to head to the Elite Eight for the second time in three years.
And we were lucky enough to have Kevin Harlan on the call for CBS, with Dan Bonner next to him. Oh, and Reggie Miller, too.
What they saw …
• Harlan is a consummate professional, able to handle the three-person crew – sideline reporter Dana Jacobson was rarely called on – that seemed to be one person too many.
That wouldn’t be Bonner.
His analysis was spot-on most of the night, even down the stretch. With a minute left, he summarized the key reason the Zags won this year after losing 75-60 to Florida State a year ago.
“Remember, last year Florida State scored 75 points, so Gonzaga’s defense has been a big factor in this game as well,” Bonner said.
OK, so he believes in understatement.
“I thought we were tough as nails tonight (on defense),” Mark Few told Jacobson afterward, not understating it at all. “We were really in the gaps, making plays, covering for each other.”
The statistics backed up Few – and Bonner. The Seminoles, whose only two losses since late January were at North Carolina and Duke, shot less than 40 percent from the floor. They were just 3 of 20 from beyond the arc. And the Zags won the rebound battle against the larger Seminoles, 45-36.
• Bonner seemed to see the outcome, or at least how Gonzaga would get there, with 10 minutes left to play and the Bulldogs (33-3) leading by 10.
“Gonzaga really needs to have a spurt here and put Florida State away,” he said. “I think the longer Florida State hangs with eight or 10 points, they have a chance to make it interesting.”
He was right. But it took Gonzaga about 6 minutes before the spurt came, after Florida State (29-8) had cut the lead to four. That came with 4 minutes left.
“Gonzaga continues to leave the door ajar for the Seminoles,” Bonner said.
Then Zach Norvell Jr. closed it with a long 3-pointer, and GU went on a 7-0 run to seal it.
What we saw …
• For any college basketball fan, one of the hardest parts of the game to understand is why certain officials seem to always have the big games.
Case in point: Verne Harris.
The veteran official, who those on the West Coast see almost a couple of times a week during the season, is one of the reasons Gonzaga was unable to get past North Carolina in the 2017 final – just ask Zach Collins.
And there he was Thursday afternoon, calling Gonzaga’s battle with Florida State.
As the obnoxious Phil from the commercials has illustrated for us way too often the past couple of weeks, just OK is not OK when it comes to officiating this important a game.
But it would have been fine in this one, because Harris, Pat Driscoll and Ray Natili didn’t even rise to that level.
There was a double foul and a double technical in the first half, both whistled by Harris.
There was an elbow to Rui Hachimura’s face that, even after it was reviewed on video, was ignored. Another elbow, to Josh Perkins’ face, was ignored just before halftime. But some words between two players merited two technicals 100 seconds later.
“(Christ) Koumadje just wrapped him up and (Brandon) Clarke, I can understand he was just trying to get out of the wrestling hold,” Bonner said of Harris’ hard-to-understand double-foul call, “and he was called for a foul, too.”
Miller’s thought about the double technical: “I’ve been kissed harder than this.”
Or, as Bonner saw it, the technicals were called “for being impolite to each other.”
Those plays gained much of the notoriety, but one play early in the second half epitomized the problems the crew was having – a play the announcing crew missed.
Terance Mann, who starred in Florida State’s win last year but had just five points in this one, stripped Perkins in the corner and took off up the court. After he crossed halfcourt and encountered traffic, he picked the ball up with his left hand and switched it to his right just above the top of the key, then continued his dribble en route to a tomahawk jam that cut GU’s lead to 49-42.
It was an obvious double dribble. But like a lot of things, everyone missed it.
• One of the more interesting parts of March’s madness, televised version, is the rotating cast of characters in the studios.
CBS has its group, which includes Greg Gumbel, Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith.
That’s the group, along with Clark Kellogg, we saw Thursday not only during a short pregame appearance, but during halftime and other breaks.
Only Kellogg thought GU would win, saying, “If they attack and play downhill, they’ll get the ‘W.’ ”
Smith cited Florida State’s depth and size as the reason he felt the Seminoles would repeat last year’s result. Barkley? He just jumped on board with FSU.
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