Long breaks and sports fans aren't meant to go together. Ever since the end of the West Coast Conference tournament, we had been wondering what was wrong with our beloved Zags. Ever since Selection Sunday, we had been wondering when Florida State got a basketball team. For the past few days we were caught up in efficiency statistics, defensive field goal percentages, etc...etc. Luckily for us, Mark Few and the Gonzaga basketball team remembered what got them to their outstanding 26-6 record and took control of tonight's first round match up from the get go. The Zags came out exactly as we'd hoped and exactly how Florida State fans thought we never would; with a determination to get the ball inside and flex our muscles against the vaunted Seminole defense. The result was a fantastic 67-60 victory over Florida State to advance the Zags to round two and a date with top-seed Syracuse.
I have been waiting to say this for quite some time but this game reminded me of Gonzaga's stretch in Maui. During those games and during tonight's game, it was so clear that this team is built to play from the post first and foremost. Elias Harris was getting touches early, Robert Sacre was active and confident, and the guards were facilitating the action and taking their looks when they came to them. The post game is anchored by Robert Sacre and I am so happy that I get to lead off this recap by talking about how well I thought he played. He was the first person that reminded of how well this team played earlier this season with his effort tonight. Not only was he active on offense and playing with fire, but he was working his butt off on defense and on the boards. Rob's 3-8 shooting from the floor isn't going to blow anyone away but his nine rebounds, one block, and numerous shot alterations really made me realize how much this team needs him to hit that next level. His fire was present tonight as well. I thought Mark Few made a brilliant coaching move but sitting him early after one foul and letting him collect his composure while Will Foster ate up minutes. After that, he came back in and played solid basketball and I thought tonight was one of his best games wearing the blue, white, and red of Gonzaga University.
Rob's night was not the only spectacular performance as Gonzaga got a quality team effort to take down FSU...
For the past week or so leading up this game, my only hope for the NCAA Tournament was that Gonzaga would re-establish Elias Harris as one of the most versatile young players in this country. In the first half, Harris was getting quality looks from all over the court. He had backscreens, he had three-point attempts, he had mid-range jumpers, and he had driving layups. He was attacking and scoring in a variety of ways and I can't tell you how much I think that means to this team. I think we all obviously know that Harris' "inside" play isn't exactly well-defined but his versatile style, in conjunction with Rob's ability to play solid in the post, gives this team such a dangerous post combo. The pair struggled early in the second half with foul trouble but Mark Few got some quality minutes from guys like Will Foster and Kelly Olynyk to keep FSU at bay.
For as good as the front court was tonight, it is going to be really hard to try and argue they outplayed the Gonzaga backcourt. They didn't all do it in unison, but throughout the evening, I thought Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray, and Demetri Goodson played their best game as a trio this season. Early on, Steven Gray was getting all the looks and he was cashing in. He was scoring (6-11, 15 points) and he was doing all of the other things (seven rebounds, five assists) to help his team win. While I am not one to really look ahead a season, the 1-2 combination that he and Elias will form next season is going to be insanely explosive and dynamic. Each showed that early tonight but Gray's ability to hit the tough jumper in traffic was so crucial.
Throughout the first half, I had written this game off as a game we would have to win without Matt Bouldin. Florida State was abusing Matt with physical defense and Bouldin wasn't really helping his cause with what I thought was sloppy ballhandling. In the second half, Matt completely and 100% redeemed himself. The senior guard scored nine of Gonzaga's first 11 points of the second half and his fading mid-range bank shot early in the half nearly made me fall out of my chair. For as much as Mark Few pushed the game to Elias and Rob in the first half, the second was all about establishing Matt while they rested with fouls and it wound up working to perfection. Matt's night was also a big reminded of Maui for me as he finished with 17 points and eight rebounds. When he is playing efficient basketball and not forcing shots, I truly do believe this team can beat anyone.
To bookend my individual player thoughts, it seems necessary to commend Demetri Goodson on a job done extremely well. In my eyes, Meech nearly had a perfect game. One turnover late where he basically dribbled off his toe really threw me for a loop but, other than that, I thought the sophomore point guard was sensational. He ended his night with nine points, five boards, and a pair of assists. A perfect Meech line. He had some very well timed drives and when he was fouled, he cashed in on his free throws. In fact, I should commend Robert Sacre as well for hitting his attempts from the charity stripe when it mattered the most. I think we have seen throughout the season that there are games that really prove why Demetri starts. Not only does he have the speed to get in the lane and challenge athletic teams, but he also has that defensive presence that is not too common on a Gonzaga team.
We all know what lies ahead for the Zags. The best team in the West region awaits the Bulldogs for an early match up on Sunday. Syracuse is projected by many to be a final four lock and really contend for a title. Gonzaga will have their hands full but, call me crazy, I am insanely excited for Sunday. Syracuse has been strong all year but they have injury issues and they are by no means unbeatable. Gonzaga will have to play their best game but beating this one seed is well within the realm of possibility. For now, we will bask in the goodness of this one and bid the Noles a happy and healthy Spring football season.