Rushed Reactions: #1 Gonzaga 79, #8 Northwestern 73Posted by RJ Abeytia on March 18th, 2017
Ultimately, Gonzaga did just enough today in Salt Lake City to survive and advance. A dominant first half bought enough equity for the Zags to withstand a furious and relentless Northwestern comeback attempt that ended with some officiating controversy.
Three Key Takeaways.
- Playing less than a 40-minute game is playing with fire. Gonzaga was in total control of this game at halftime, but then came out and had very little second half answer for a Northwestern team that went all-in on trapping its posts and cheating into the passing lanes. In the second 20 minutes, the Bulldogs committed a staggering 11 turnovers and allowed 17 points off those miscues. On the other end of the floor, the Wildcats shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and posted an offensive efficiency of 129.3. As the competition level increases in coming games, Gonzaga is going to need to bring a lot more if it’s going to be as happy at the end of the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend as it is right now.
- Gonzaga’s frontcourt isn’t just big, it’s deep. Everyone knows about Przemek Karnowski inside but freshman center Zach Collins carried the Bulldogs in the second half, scoring 12 points on 3-of-3 shooting and 6-of-8 from the line. He regularly absorbed triple-teams and still scored, showing a great touch and an ability to finish off screen-roll dives. He wasn’t alone, however. Fellow freshman Killian Tillie also had a solid eight points, combining for 10 rebounds and five blocks on the afternoon.
- Officiating needs to improve significantly in the second weekend. In a game that had 150 possessions, it’s a tough case to convincingly make that a single call or play was the difference between winning and losing the game. That said, the blown goaltending combined with the subsequent technical foul on Chris Collins really diminished what was shaping up to be a legendary finish. The officiating from the notorious Pac-12 crew left much to be desired, and blowing that call — if it didn’t decide the game — at least, significantly impacted the game. Northwestern was deprived of an opportunity, and that should never happen simply because of an egregious mistake by the officials.
Star of the Game. Nigel Williams-Goss, Gonzaga. The WCC Player of the Year was the best player on the court today, blitzing Northwestern to the tune of 20 points, eight rebounds and four assists in addition to hitting a cold-blooded three to silence Wildcat fans during one of their second half runs. He can score from every spot on the floor; he is an active participant in the rebounding effort; and he’s got plenty of moxie.
- Gonzaga coach Mark Few tried to stay away from the call and ensuing controversy in his post-game presser. He described his team’s struggles with second-half turnovers thusly: “We got discombobulated at the end and we needed to settle down. They came out in the second half and were really getting after it, and we didn’t handle it well.”
- Northwestern’s Chris Collins, Bryant McIntosh and Vic Law, Jr. came out for their presser, but before Collins could make his statement, an official from the NCAA entered and the moderator read a statement that conceded that “The officials missed a rules violation.”
- Collins nodded bemusedly upon hearing the statement, but it took little prompting to elicit his feelings about the call and its impact. First, he simply said, “Thank you. I don’t know what it means. All I know is I’m going home.” He tried to pivot the narrative by stating that, “The story of the game was the first half,” but he closed with more thoughts on the matter.
- Collins then said: “Yes I believe we have a great chance to win if we get that call,” and then, finally, with a staggering amount of sarcasm in his voice, “I really appreciate the NCAA making that statement. It makes me feel great.”
Sights and Sounds: How about five shirtless guys in the upper deck with their chests painted to spell “#MEOW” in purple? The passion of the Northwestern fans this weekend was really something to behold, eventually galvanizing the Arizona and Saint Mary’s fan bases along with them in cheering on the Wildcats. It was a bitter end to a fairy tale season, but the spirit of those fans (crying kid included) is what makes this tournament so spectacular.
What’s Next: Gonzaga’s improved physicality and resolve will get a very stern test from Bob Huggins’ West Virginia club. How much Gonzaga’s depth up front matters is the true question against relentlessly pressing West Virginia. They’re certainly going to need a better response than the today’s against a valiant but ultimately overmatched Northwestern team.