Can anybody stop these guys?
For the 30th straight time this season, Gonzaga answered that question with a resounding “No.”
The Bulldogs got on a roll and put on a show, cruising into the Final Four with an 85-66 beatdown of a Southern California team that was nowhere near ready for what it ran into Tuesday night.
Drew Timme had 23 points and five rebounds and, after one dunk, pretended to slick down his handlebar mustache for the few thousand fans in the stands.
“This is a really, really big deal,” coach Mark Few said of the program’s return to the Final Four after a four-year hiatus. “And Zags know how to celebrate, OK?”
The top-seeded and top-ranked Bulldogs (30-0) will be the third team to bring an undefeated record into the Final Four since the bracket expanded to 64 teams in 1985. The last team to go undefeated was Indiana in 1976. On Saturday in the national semifinals, the Zags will face 11th-seeded UCLA, which beat Michigan 51-49 in a later Elite Eight game.
In the early contest, Timme did whatever he wanted against the nation’s fourth-ranked defense — a team that won its first three tournament games by an average of 21 points — as did pretty much everyone else in a white uniform.
Jalen Suggs finished with 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists. All-American Corey Kispert had 18 points and eight boards on an “off” night — only 6 for 19 from the floor. Gonzaga shot 44% in the second half and “only” 50% for the game. That was five under its nation-leading average, but it didn’t matter much.
“We just tried to stay moving,” Suggs said about attacking the USC zone, which had been shutting down teams all month in Indy. “We didn’t let the ball get too sticky. We kept moving, flashing into the high post. It was a lot for them to deal with — good cuts off the baseline, vertical cuts off the wings.”
Blowouts are supposed to be boring, but this had the feel of a Globetrotters game at times, filled with fancy bounce passes through traffic, reverse layups, a swooping power dunk from Joel Ayayi (nine points) and the occasional post-basket flex from the 6-foot-10 Timme.
Gonzaga led sixth-seeded USC 7-0 after two minutes, 25-8 after 8:30 and 36-15 after Kispert took a nifty dish from Timme for an easy layup with 6:03 left in the half.
“It was a little surprising,” USC coach Andy Enfield said, “because we’d been playing great basketball.”
The Zags have a way about doing that to people.
They walked into the locker room at halftime ahead by 19 and with a big fat zero in the turnover column — a gold-standard stat for a team that thrives on offensive efficiency.
The last 20 minutes were extended garbage time — plenty of time for the Bulldogs to pad the stats.
They are a statistician’s dream — a team that came in No. 1 scoring (91.8), that has won 29 of its 30 games by double digits, and that wasn’t going to be slowed by the Brothers Mobley — Isaiah and Evan — who roam the middle for one of the country’s tallest teams (Average height, 6-7).
They both got theirs — Isaiah with 19 points and seven rebounds, and Evan with 17 and five — but the evening belonged to the Bulldogs.
“It’s such a special accomplishment, and to do it this year with as crazy as it’s been, as challenging as it’s been,” said Few, whose team had four games canceled in December because of COVID-19, but never lost its stride. “They’ve been unbelievable from Day 1.”
The game was interrupted by a frightening moment early, when official Bert Smith collapsed on the floor and had to be taken off in a wheelchair. In the second half, CBS passed along word that Smith was feeling OK and resting in the arena.
He was replaced by Tony Henderson, but there was no heavy lifting for the backup.
USC didn’t get closer than 16 in the second half, and though their intensity wandered at times, there was never any doubt the Zags would be returning to Lucas Oil Stadium later this week, two wins away from perfection.
The All-region team included both Mobley brothers, Suggs, Kispert and Timme, who was named the West’s most outstanding player. Timme had 45 points and 11 rebounds over the two games this week.