John Blanchette: Gonzaga happy to savor latest Big Dance blowout before rolling into the FInal Four
March 30, 2021 Updated Tue., March 30, 2021 at 10:17 p.m.
INDIANAPOLIS – The Big Dance has turned into the Big Autopsy.
Proximate cause of death: internal bleeding.
And now the Gonzaga Bulldogs pack up the bone saw and rib shears and head off to the second Final Four in school history – still unchallenged, still so very special, still insistent that every victory is a jubilee and not just the one everyone is waiting on.
“Everyone wants us to keep moving forward,” Zags coach Mark Few said, “but that’s not how we roll.”
But, oh, do they roll.
On Tuesday night, it was USC peeling itself off the pavement in an 85-66 drubbing that was essentially over by the second TV timeout – the Zags spending the rest of the game with their outstretched palms pushing on the Trojans’ foreheads while harmless haymakers created gusts.
“We had so much fun,” said freshman Jalen Suggs, wearing a wide grin and one of the nets the Zags cut down for being West Region champions.
This was the one that was supposed to make the Bulldogs nervous.
Instead, they were simply nails.
Why would anyone expect less now?
Gonzaga’s four victories in the tournament have come by an average of 24 points. Only five other teams have done that by 15 points a game or more since the bracket expansion in 1985, and the last – UConn – reigned as national champions in 2004.
Sorry. That’s getting ahead of the Few celebratory timetable.
But the point is, this cruise has been so smooth that even the candid coach has lacked for nits to pick. It was suggested Tuesday that he might be hot and bothered about his team tipping off before quitting time in Spokane.
“Trust me, our fans – they’re not at work,” he laughed. “If you think they’re at work, you don’t know Zag fans. Everything is shut down and everybody was watching.
“They have their priorities in line.”
Just like their team.
The priority on this evening? Not give an inch.
The Trojans gave off a scary vibe because of their size and wingspan – four starters went 7-foot, 6-10, 6-8, 6-7 – and a zone defense that had made them the toughest team to score on from inside the arc in college basketball.
And then 10 of the Zags’ first 11 buckets came from within 10 feet. Twelve layups in the first half. Forty-six points in the paint on the demoralized Pac-12 reps.
By the midpoint of the first half, the Trojans looked as if they’d entered the transfer portal en masse.
“We just tried to stay moving,” said Suggs, who came up two assists shy of a triple-double, with 18 points and 10 rebounds. “When we were moving and guys flash in the high post and didn’t get it, they’re popping up. We had somebody else come in and flash. It was just a lot for them to deal with. We were getting really open floaters, good cuts on the baseline, vertical cuts off the wings.
“Drew (Timme) did a good job ducking in Evan (Mobley) on a lot of those that kind of took the shot blocker out of the way so we could have easy lanes. We were working together all night.”
All tournament, he could have said.
Excluding free throws, 57% of Gonzaga’s points have come inside the paint – and, of course, most of the free throws result from interior fouls.
Internal bleeding, indeed.
This was not by any means a perfect game. The Bulldogs merely held serve the second half, and Corey Kispert had a tough shooting night, although it still added up to 18 points.
But how many times this year has it been said about the Zags? They won an Elite Eight game by 19 and their leading scorer was 6 of 19 … they beat Creighton by 18 and Suggs had six turnovers … they beat so-and-so by such-and-such and Timme never once twirled his imaginary handlebar.
Gonzaga forward Drew Timme, right, celebrates a basket against USC in an Elite Eight game in the NCAA Tournament in Indianapolis on March 30. (Darron Cummings/Associated Press)
How many times have they won? Thirty – the first NCAA Division I program to win 30 or more in five straight seasons, and this one shortened by COVID-19 pauses and cancellations.
The Zags savored it inside their half of cavernous Lucas Oil Stadium. They took their sweet time cutting the nets, and as that went on Kispert came over beneath a small knot of parents and friends, offering a gallery clap and making the sign of a heart. Teammates soon followed. Few wrapped NCAA basketball major domo Dan Gavitt in a hug, grateful for his work in keeping a season and a tournament on the rails amid a pandemic.
And now on to … well, not yet.
“This is something that needs to be celebrated,” said Few. “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 endgame and that’s the only way you’re going to celebrate and feel good about anything.
“That’s not how I roll. That’s not how Drew Timme rolls. Corey, Joel, Jalen, the whole group.”
They just roll. And, OK, right into the Final Four.
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