The hotel fire alarm that briefly interrupted Norfolk State coach Robert Jones’ Zoom call with media Friday was nothing compared to the chaos Gonzaga created for the Spartans on the court.
The top-ranked Bulldogs handled Norfolk State’s assortment of defenses the same way they handled nearly every team on their schedule. GU put on a clinic with pinpoint passing, spacing, cutting and ball movement.
It didn’t get any easier for the 16th-seeded Spartans at the offensive end. The Zags clamped down on Norfolk State’s top two scorers and left few openings for others as Gonzaga cruised to a 98-55 victory Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Gonzaga (27-0), which faces eighth-seeded Oklahoma at 11:40 a.m. Monday on CBS, posted its most lopsided NCAA Tournament win in program history. The Zags have won 12 straight tourney openers, second only to Kansas (14) on the list of active streaks.
The rust from 11 days between games didn’t last long. Gonzaga misfired on its first four shots before returning to form.
“I think that’s the longest we’ve ever waited to play an NCAA Tournament game,” coach Mark Few said. “From a coaching standpoint, that causes anxiety and sitting around watching all the higher seeds jumping up and grabbing us lower seeds was a little bit unnerving the last few days.
“The guys came out with a great approach, played great defense all night. They run a lot of stuff and they switch defenses, so there’s a lot of adjusting going on by our guys.”
Jalen Suggs went to the bench early with two fouls, and Drew Timme followed a short time later after committing a turnover. Aaron Cook and Anton Watson entered and provided instant offense – and solid defense – as the Zags took command.
Watson had two dunks and a layup and Cook connected on a 3-pointer to spark a 12-0 burst.
“That’s like my favorite spot to play in the middle (against a zone defense) because you basically have control of the whole game,” said Watson, who finished 7 of 7 from the field, scored 17 points and grabbed seven rebounds. “I was looking for my shot and being aggressive the whole time.”
The coaching staff has been in Watson’s ear about being more assertive.
“I told him after he just walked out of this interview room, that’s just one now,” Few said. “This team needs that desperately out of Anton. We’ve been asking and begging and yelling and doing whatever we can to try to get him more aggressive and assertive in every phase of the game.
“Norfolk had legitimate size and athleticism around the rim, so I thought that was a really good sign for us and Anton moving forward.”
Senior wing Corey Kispert hit two 3-pointers when the Zags were sputtering in the opening minutes. He continued hitting 3s when the Zags were rolling on offense for the rest of the half.
Kispert made five 3-pointers in the opening half, moving past Matt Santangelo into fourth on the program’s all-time list. He finished with six, one short of Steven Gray’s program record of seven in an NCAA Tournament game against Davidson in 2008. Kispert sat out the last 10-plus minutes.
“Corey’s an all-timer at our place, clearly,” Few said.
Gonzaga added runs of 9-0 and 7-0 to take a 43-23 lead at the break. The Zags had 14 assists on 16 baskets. All seven Zags scored and six had at least one assist, led by Timme’s four.
The second half was a replay of the first. Watson came off the bench and quickly had a pair of baskets and Kispert added his sixth 3-pointer as GU’s lead grew to 55-27.
Norfolk State (17-8) hadn’t allowed an opponent to reach 70 points during a seven-game winning streak dating back to Feb. 8. The Spartans rank in the top 20 nationally in field-goal percentage defense and top 40 in 3-point defense, but Gonzaga finished at 55.7% and 51.9%, respectively.
Gonzaga had 27 assists, led by Cook’s seven.
Norfolk State guards Devante Carter (15 points per game) and Joe Bryant Jr. (11.6) combined for just 15 points on 5-of-25 shooting. Jalen Hawkins, who scored 24 points off the bench in a First Four win over Appalachian State, scored eight points.
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