Before the ball was tipped, there were a whole lot of preconceived notions in place. The main one being "No chance Gonzaga can travel two-thousand miles and beat a tough Big East team". Well, not only did they beat them, it was one of Gonzaga's biggest wins of the season. One of the other notions was that Gonzaga's freshmen backcourt composed of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. had to play all out to get a win. That one...did happen. Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos combined for 27 points, 6 assists, 6 rebounds, and....only two turnovers. The freshmen duo had absolutely no fear in their first tournament game and carried the Zags tonight. To be completely honest, it was a very stress free game. West Virginia was popped early on by the Zags and never posed a serious threat.
Leading up to the game, I literally heard the word "toughness" one-hundred times in connection with why West Virginia would beat Gonzaga. Tonight, the Zags were the tougher team and the more talented team and ran the Mountaineers back into their bus to Morgantown. It started with the Gonzaga defense. Led by Gary Bell and Guy Landry Edi, Gonzaga's defensive presence stifled the Mountaineers. Mark Few and Co. used some great token pressure to add stress to the already weak backcourt of West Virginia and that was a very big blow to the opponent. We expected Darryl "Truck" Bryant to be a huge factor in this one but he was completely out of it tonight for West Virginia. The senior guard finished with nine points, two turnovers, and zero assists in his final game for Bob Huggins. The stat page wasn't much prettier for the rest of the Mountaineers. The one big surprise was how poorly Kevin Jones played. At 5-14 (mostly during times when Elias Harris wasn't playin) the big man from West Virginia was woefully off on most attempts and, like the rest of his team, just never got going.
If I haven't yet, I can't stress how impressive the Bulldogs were as a defensive unit. West Virginia shot a frigid 33% from the floor while the Zags shot 56%. The Zags hit three times as many three pointers as the Mountaineers and dominated the pace of the game. Along with the defense, I would truly say that the not two...but three freshmen impressed me the most. Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos paced the club all night long. Bell, to me, was particularly impressive offensively. He hit big shots early in the game and is just a player that oozes confidence on the floor. Kevin Pangos was an incredible point guard. He rarely forced the issue, hit his shots, and made plays for his teammates. In all, Kevin was 5-7 from the floor and had five assists. He has had a ton of games where he has hurt more than helped but tonight he played as though he was a fifth year senior.
Not much more for tonight. This one was a ton of fun. Celebrate here and we'll see you Saturday! Shout out to J-Fitz in Champaign!