RTC is providing coverage from start to finish of the NCAA Tournament for the next three weeks.
- Gonzaga’s Offensive Explosion From Three. The key number in today’s Elite Eight game is 12, as in 12 made three-pointers on 24 Gonzaga attempts. The Zags started the game with seven of its first nine shots from beyond the arc, which was both surprising and troubling because three-point shooting (both in conversions and attempts) really isn’t the Zags’ modus operandi. But they made three of those seven and it only improved from there as Gonzaga slowly adjusted to figure out Xavier’s zone defenses. An 8-of-13 first half supported a 10-point lead at the intermission, and two more quick threes to start the second half quickly pushed the lead over Xavier to an irrecoverable 16 points. From there, Mark Few’s team never looked back on its way to Glendale. As Chris Mack noted afterward, the Zags do not particularly shoot many threes (256th nationally) nor do they shoot them at an elite level (37.8% after tonight) — but given their impressive frontcourt and consistently strong defense, it is a nearly impossible task to beat them when they’re knocking down outside shots at such a prodigious rate.
- Its Defense Wasn’t Bad Either. No doubt some regression to the mean here, but Gonzaga did a great job of shadowing and covering the red-hot Trevon Bluiett everywhere on the floor. The junior wing came into today’s game averaging 25.0 PPG and shooting 13-of-23 from three-point range, but the Bulldogs never let him get comfortable in holding him to 10 points on 3-of-14 shooting. Many of the easy looks that Xavier found on Thursday night against Arizona were no longer there, with the beefy size of Przemek Karnowski, Zach Collins and Johnathan Williams making life in the lane uncomfortable for the much-smaller Musketeers. The Zags own the nation’s top defense for a reason, and a complete start-to-finish performance that included holding Xavier to 13 percent from three-point range and 36 percent for the game is a great example of why.
- Xavier’s Fiery Run. Considering that Xavier took its February performance and burned it in a showing of mutual solidarity, the Musketeers should still feel great about how they salvaged what appeared to be a lost season. From the calendar-burning moment on, Xavier won six of nine games including a run to the semifinals of the Big East Tournament and the Elite Eight. Maybe Mack should think about using a similar gimmick every year, but the point remains. The loss of Edmond Sumner in late January ensured that the Musketeers would experience bouts of inconsistency, but not even the most faithful Xavier fan believed that a team basically without a point guard could make a run through Maryland, Florida State and Arizona to reach the regional final. Mack deserves all credit for keeping his team focused in a situation that would have destroyed most squads.
Star of the Game. Johnathan Williams, Gonzaga. The transfer from Missouri certainly could not have asked for a better outcome to his decision to leave the SEC for the WCC. As his former school continues to languish — recently hiring a new coach for the third time in six seasons — the junior forward’s play today ensured that Gonzaga’s season would continue into the final weekend. He contributed early, hitting for 12 easy points (on 5-of-6 shooting) near the rim as the Zags worked to solve the changing Xavier defenses. His final totals of 19 points and eight rebounds allowed Gonzaga to establish its inside game and provide openings for its shooters.