As Mark Few headed to the Moda Center locker room at halftime in the Zags’ opening-round NCAA Tournament game with Georgia State, he had to stop to complete a mandatory television interview.
TNT’s sideline reporter Andy Katz put the microphone in front of Few and asked the Gonzaga coach, if we can paraphrase, what the heck is going on?
After all, the top-ranked Zags led 16th-seeded Panthers by just two points.
Few was ready with an answer. He talked about hitting shots, being patient and, most important, toughening up. He mentioned that last thing twice. He said goodbye and headed to the locker room to do something about it.
Whatever he did, it worked.
With Andrew Catalon and Steve Lappas describing the offensive explosion, Drew Timme led the Bulldogs into the second round with a 93-72 victory.
What they saw …
• The toughness manifested itself more mentally than physically. Gonzaga was patient enough to eschew its usually efficient outside shooting and concentrated on feeding the ball inside.
Timme had 14 second-half shots. Chet Holmgren eight more. And the two combined for 16 makes as the Zags (27-3) overpowered a Panthers team who lost its best inside defender (Eliel Nsome) to a knee injury, and every other player taller than 6-foot-6 had foul trouble. Gonzaga had 38 points in the paint after halftime.
“When you let a guy get four (fouls) in the first half, you definitely have depth problems,” Lappis said. Georgia ultimately lost three players to fouls.
• “I thought it was interesting that Gonzaga came out with pressure right away,” Lappas said, referring to GU’s 1-2-2 three-quarters-court trap. Georgia State (18-11, but winners of 12 of its final 14 games) broke it but missed a quick free-throw line jumper. It was obvious the Bulldogs wanted to quicken the tempo from the tip. Such a pace would seem to favor the Bulldogs. It did, but not during the first half. It took 30 minutes.
“A little fatigue has to be setting in,” he added as Gonzaga went on a game-deciding 21-0 run midway through the second half, making it look as if the Zags rolled.
• “Here’s a team that, offensively, does about everything well,” Lappas said after the Zags began the game struggling to get the ball in the basket outside of dunks. “These guys score inside, they score outside. Tough.”
Not that they did much of that early. There was a reason, according to Lappas, the former Villanova coach.
“Gonzaga’s not playing,” Lappas said midway through the opening half. “That’s the bottom line here.”
He then pointed to Georgia State’s 11 second-chance points at that point as proof. He was right, as the Panthers outworked GU for much of the game and, despite being so small, had 23 second-chance points.
What we saw …
• One of the innovations – if that’s the correct term – for this season’s tournament features the head coaches. Besides their usual halftime interview, they also have to be available during a first-half timeout. One has to wonder if there will be a lot said of import, but Few was at least straightforward.
“They are an old team,” he described the Panthers to Katz at the under-12 break. “They’ve got great guard play and they’ve got physical bigs.”
All of which was true and had an impact, though Few felt the first half offensive issues – GU shot 40% before halftime and 58.5 after – were of Gonzaga’s making.
“We’re having rhythm when we do the right things,” he said. “Just make the right basketball play. We’ve just got to continue to do that.”
• Uncharacteristically, Gonzaga had a first-half stretch of 12 consecutive misses, going 7:50 without a field goal. And it struggled at the free-throw line as well.
“We just need to start finishing our shots around the basket,” Few said as he headed to the locker room. “Slow down, toughen up and, if we don’t have a good one, throw it out and go to the next action. We’ve basically punted in there six or seven times.
“We’ve got to step up and make some free throws. As I told you all week, this is a good team. This is a No. 16 seed, but it is what it is. We’ve got to toughen up, finish shots around the rim and keep securing the ball a little better.”
“They’ve got them playing in the mud,” Seth Davis said on the halftime show.
And the Zags didn’t clean it up until the last 10 minutes of the game.
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