We almost committed to calling Gonzaga’s game Sunday against Creighton the most difficult one that remains on the Bulldogs’ schedule.
Glad we didn’t. This might be it. Pity the Southern California Trojans, however, because that doesn’t mean it will be close.
The Zags feature a dynamic trio of Corey Kispert, Drew Timme, and Joel Ayayi that has been among the top 20 in the nation in effective field-goal percentage.
Only Belmont and Creighton had three players on that top-100 chart, and the Bluejays were barely in Sunday’s game for 25 minutes. Over the final 10 minutes, Gonzaga coasted. USC will know what that’s like in this West Regional finale.
- Gonzaga -9 vs. USC, Total 153.5, Tuesday, 7:15 pm ET
- Action: Gonzaga -9
After the weekend’s games, Gonzaga’s three players were among the top 25 in effective field-goal percentage.
Timme (18.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg) and Kispert (19 ppg, 4.9 rpg) both are at 66.7%, tied for sixth. In 22nd is Ayayi (11.9 ppg, 7.1 rpg), at 63.5%.
The Fourth Musketeer is freshman point guard Jalen Suggs (13.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.4 apg), who also averages two steals a game.
These guys are maestros at exploiting whatever defense opponents throw at them. Of coach Mark Few’s 22 Gonzaga teams, this is his best offensive unit and second-best on the defensive side.
Gonzaga (29-0) averages a national-best 91.8 points on the season, best in the land. Nobody left in the NCAAs matches its 89.3 average over its past three, either.
On the other side of the court, of those remaining in March Madness, the lowest opponents’ effective-possession ratio is Baylor’s, at a miniscule 0.882. The second-lowest figure, however, is the Zags’ 0.897.
Uh Oh, The Mobleys
The strength of USC (25-7) is not lost on us, highlighted by a certain text message received weeks ago from the assistant coach of a Division-I program.
SC looks (expletive) good! They’re huge!
The Mobley brothers, 7-foot freshman Evan (16.3 ppg, 8.8 rpg) and 6-10 sophomore Isaiah (9.6 ppg, 7.3 rpg), are dynamic.
The two-man game with which they zapped Oregon on Sunday was not fair, and they anchor a strong 2-3 zone defense.
Tahj Eaddy (13.7 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 2.8 apg), the senior guard who has played at Southeast Missouri State and Santa Clara, is the third prong who will have Gonzaga’s attention.
The Zags, however, are far from the Ducks. USC’s offense compared to Gonzaga’s defense is a push. The Trojans, however, shoot free throws at a poor 64.6% rate.
Gonzaga is a bit above average, but at nearly 10 points better than USC that will be a plentiful source of points and an edge for the Zags.
Watch the Bulldogs’ 2-point shooting of 63.9%, tops in college hoops, against SC’s allowance of 41.5%, the lowest inside the arc in the game. That will decide the game, the cover, and the Trojans’ pride.
Outside that arc, Gonzaga sports a 37.3% touch, bested only by Baylor (40.8%) and Michigan (38.3%) out of the weekend.
Way back when, some stout USC teams—with Paul Westphal and Gus Williams—had to contend with the UCLA dynasty and never got to play in the NCAAs.
Though this iteration has made a fine run to the Elite Eight, its date with Gonzaga feels a tad premature.
It is too bad, indeed, that the setting for this showdown is not the Final Four, in a national semifinal or the grand finale itself. It deserves such spotlights, the biggest stage.
Unfortunately for the Trojans, this run is the culmination of years, if not a couple of decades, of buildup for an outstanding Gonzaga program out to assert itself nationally.
To become the game’s first team to go undefeated since 1975-76 Indiana, and to win all of its NCAA Tournament games in the Hoosier State, is the stuff of Hollywood. The Zags are shooting for history.
They’ve had their toes stubbed, in the West Coast Conference final in Las Vegas when Brigham Young was up on the Bulldogs by double digits, but the Cougars couldn’t finish ’em off.
The Zags learned from that, won by double figures and have won 26 consecutive games by double digits.
Strike that. With this one, make it 27.
Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire