Gonzaga's start to the 2014-15 NCAA Tournament was rocky...at best. North Dakota State welcomed the Bulldogs to the Key Arena by draining its first three there point attempts on its way to an early lead. That initial surge was very indicative of future results as North Dakota State was simply outstanding tonight in Seattle as they made life extremely difficult for the Bulldogs. In the end, Gonzaga did enough behind the scoring of Kyle Wiltjer, Gary Bell, and Kevin Pangos to get by the Bison with an 86-76 win.
We'll have more to come later but here are a few quick thoughts:
- Such large kudos to the Bison - particularly its bench. We all knew what Lawrence Alexander would bring to the table but the Bison needed its supporting cast to step up to make this a game and it did. NDSU's bench (2 players) combined for 30 points, led by the unreal effort from Dexter Werner. Werner averaged about 8 points per game heading into this and was 9-13 from the field with 20 points.
- The sloppy play for Gonzaga can't be ignored. Make the excuse regarding the time off or the fact that they haven't played well in the first half all year but this type of play will lead to an early March exit, again. The Zags really struggled in the first half, particularly with how it took care of the ball. 5 of its 6 first half turnovers were low post entry passes that were mostly miles off the mark. It was a game that lacked any consistency which is concerning in this time of the year.
- Gary Bell's early defense on Lawrence Alexander was outstanding. Alexander forced up shots that he hit in the 2nd half to have a nice game but he only took three shots in the first half which is due to Bell being all over him.
- While Bell's defense was stellar, North Dakota State took advantage of Gonzaga's size and slowness as they isolated Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis numerous times to get to the rim and hit shots. Small teams are always a concern as we saw with BYU and tonight's game did little to alleviate that fear.
- Kyle Wiltjer and Kevin Pangos, both of which started slow, combined for great games down the stretch and drove this team to victory on the offensive end.
What are your thoughts? Better, worse, or indifferent?