Another opponent that knew it had to score to stay with Gonzaga. Another opponent with a defense many believed could bother the Bulldogs. Another opponent that pledged not to let the Zags get loose in transition.
Another opponent vanquished when none of those things happened.
Gonzaga scored early and often in the lane – supposedly the strength of USC’s vaunted defense – and leaned on its improving defense in a resounding 85-66 victory Tuesday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
The top-seeded Zags (30-0) sprinted into the Final Four for the second time in program history. Gonzaga will face UCLA at 5:34 p.m. PT on Saturday.
“This is something that needs to be celebrated and we need to take the time to enjoy the heck out of it because I think you’re just missing the whole point in life if all you’re doing is going to the very end game,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “That’s not how I roll. That’s not how Drew Timme rolls. Corey (Kispert), Joel (Ayayi), Jalen (Suggs), the whole group.
“We’ll enjoy the heck out of it tonight. Obviously, we’ll need rest (Wednesday). We’ll do film and get down to business.”
Gonzaga became the first team in Division I history with five consecutive 30-win seasons.
The Zags did what they’ve done all season, only this time it was against a USC team whose strengths – 2-point defense, an active, lengthy zone and hot 3-point shooting – suggested this could be a stern test.
It wasn’t, and the Zags sent that message early. They scored the first seven points as Timme tormented the sixth-seeded Trojans (25-8) at both ends of the floor. Timme ripped off eight straight GU points as the Zags lead reached 13 in the first seven minutes.
“He came out and set the tone, attacking Evan (Mobley) on the inside,” said Suggs, who finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. “He was spectacular like always.”
USC entered with the nation’s top 2-point defense (41.5%), but it was no match for Gonzaga, which is strengthening its case as one of the best offenses in college basketball history.
The Zags had layup after layup, converting after turnovers and breaking down USC’s zone defense that had been stingy in three tournament wins. They led 49-30 at halftime and made 64.2% of their 2-point shots, a fraction above their nation-leading season average of 63.9%.
“We just tried to stay moving,” Suggs said. “Drew did a good job ducking in on Evan on a lot of those that kind of took the shot blocker out of the way so we could have easy lanes.”
The 7-foot Mobley, named second-team All-America by several outlets, and 6-10 brother Isaiah, combined for 36 points and 12 rebounds, but couldn’t prevent the Zags from dominating in the paint.
Gonzaga had 30 paint points in the first half and finished with 46. The most USC had allowed in a game this season was 36.
The Trojans, who led the nation in blocks, had zero against the Zags.
Gonzaga’s defense hounded the Trojans into seven early turnovers and put its transition game into motion. GU led 29-15 with 9:10 remaining, 15 of those points coming in transition.
“I thought we got sped up a little bit at times in the first half because we were trying too hard after a slow start,” USC coach Andy Enfield said.
USC shot 57% from the field and roughly 60% beyond the arc in routs over Kansas and Oregon. The Trojans slumped to 42%, including 26.7% from deep against the Zags.
“The respect and a little anxiousness about our opponent,” Few said of GU’s fourth straight solid defensive effort in the tournament. “I think they’re watching these other (tournament) games and seeing how physical and intense they are and they respond to that. We’ve played pretty darn good defense all year. It’s just taken a back seat to our offense because it’s been almost historically good in NCAA standards.”
Timme might have set his single-game record for ’stache celebrations – when he traces his mustache with his index fingers and then points to the sky – after completing highlight-reel plays. The sophomore forward had 23 points.
Gonzaga let off the throttle a bit in the second half but maintained a comfortable lead. The margin was 24 points midway through the half.
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