Every NCAA tournament, it seems, Gonzaga faces one team in an early round that the “experts” see as a real test.
For their past six appearances, the Zags proved them wrong.
This time, the experts were right.
As the Memphis Tigers pushed the top-seeded Bulldogs until the final moments before Gonzaga pulled out an 82-78 victory, Andrew Catalon, Steve Lappas and Andy Katz were at Portland’s Moda Center to witness it. And bring it into our homes.
When it was over, Catalon described the test in only a few words.
“Gonzaga got all they could handle from Memphis,” he said.
What they saw …
• One of those experts, Seth Davis, picked Gonzaga to make the championship game before the tournament began. But before this one tipped on TBS, he picked Memphis to win.
His hedged bet almost worked, in large part due to how big the Tigers came up on the offensive glass.
Their eight offensive rebounds in the first half, many of them early, caught Mark Few’s eye. In his first-half timeout interview with Katz, the Gonzaga coach praised his offense but not his defense.
“We’ve got to definitely work harder on keeping them off the glass,” the obviously frustrated veteran coach said. “They’re just an exceptional rebounding team.”
Usually, so are the Zags. But Memphis were too quick to the ball too often. With eight offensive rebounds before halftime – it seemed like more – the Tigers had an 8-1 edge on second-chance points.
Add in Memphis beating the Bulldogs down the court way too often, it was easy to see why the Tigers led 41-31.
“They have to get a hold of this game,” Lappas said of the Bulldogs before the second half started, mentioning how Memphis had made the game frantic. “They’ve got to settle this game down.”
They did – by picking up their pace.
• It’s seems counterintuitive, but Gonzaga took control of the pace by pushing the ball and feeding Drew Timme. That seemed to slow the game down, at least for GU. The Zags outscored Memphis 30-16 in little over 10 minutes after halftime. At that point, their offense went through their inside presence.
“Timme is feeling it right now,” Catalon said after the forward scored his 12th point of the second half, en route to 21 after halftime and 25 overall. Obviously, he didn’t stop.
“Drew Timme in the second half has been unbelievable,” Lappas said as they come back from the under 12-minute media timeout.
• Katz mentioned a couple of times in the second half he heard Timme exhorting his teammates in the hallway before they returned to the court after intermission.
He then asked Timme in a postgame interview what Timme said in the locker room at halftime.
“We’re not going out as soft guys,” said Timme, who censored himself for the most part but did say one word that CBS should have bleeped.
What we saw …
• If there was a hole in Gonzaga’s NCAA resume this year, albeit after just two contests, it is at the free-throw line.
After hitting just 16 of 30 in the first-game win, the Zags were even worse in this one – until the final minutes.
They hit just 4 of 9 in the first half. With the game on the line in the second, they finished 9 of 15. Their 54% contrasts, in a poor way, to their 73% shooting over the course of the regular season.
Add in the Tigers’ 14 offensive rebounds and one has to wonder how the Bulldogs won.
Maybe it was the six consecutive free throws Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton converted to end the game.
• One of the key possessions of the first half came with 4:25 left. Tyler Harris, the Tigers’ quick point guard, attacked the rim. Timme came over to challenge, and Bates threw his right elbow into the GU big.
That was the first significant contact on the play, but Verne Harris, who seemed screened from view by Timme’s body, called a foul on the junior.
Few wasn’t buying it. He yelled Harris’ first name, and then pointed at the replay which showed what we mentioned above. And Harris assessed a technical.
Following the next media timeout, after Lappas had spent an extended period excoriating Few for pointing at the replay on the overhead scoreboard, we found out the technical was given to someone on the GU bench, not Few.
Either way, the Tigers’ Harris hit all four free throws. They ignited an 11-3 run to end the half.
The half ended with Memphis ahead by 10, two points more than the edge the Tigers had at the free-throw line.
The Tigers were playing Baylor-like defense. Not just Baylor from last year’s title game, but Baylor in the early game Saturday against North Carolina. Aggressive, hard-hitting defense, acting like there is nothing to lose.
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