In a tale of two halves, Gonzaga rebounded from a first half which Mark Few could only call “bad,” and played a stellar second period to knock off the Florida Gators 77-72. With the win, Gonzaga remains undefeated (8-0) in all appearances at the AdvoCare Invitational, and advances to the final where they will face off against #21 Iowa State.
The Zags need to work on getting off to better starts. For the second straight game, and third in the last four (SDSU), Mark Few’s men stumbled out of the blocks.
Gonzaga’s first three possessions read like a sad comedy of errors: Johnathan Williams got stripped, then got blocked, then committed an offensive foul. Oh, and the first defensive possession featured Przemek Karnowski having to scramble to cover open Florida guards in the corner and wing. It certainly wasn’t the start Gonzaga fans were hoping for after having to wait for tipoff following an extended Quinnipiac-Seton Hall game.
Once again, Josh Perkins and Nigel Williams-Goss were paired together to start the game, and having two point guards on the floor was theoretically supposed to help combat Florida’s aggressive defense. But, the backcourt was extremely sloppy with the ball. Nine turnovers in the first eight minutes highlighted a Gonzaga offense that was completely out of sync. Florida was playing aggressively and with confidence, and the Zags looked like they had never played together before.
With Gonzaga’s prolonged struggles on the offensive end, the Gators had a great opportunity to build a huge lead in the first half, but failed to do so as they had their own struggles putting the ball in the basket, shooting 39% from the field in the opening 20 minutes. Florida showcased its impressive athleticism with a handful of blocks and a flurry of highlight dunks. But, if they weren’t dunking, they were bricking.
The Zags finally found some footing late in the first and narrowed the deficit to five points entering the break. Who knows how large the deficit would have been if not for Josh Perkins who shot a scorching 5-6 from the field en route to 15 points in the half.
Entering the break, Mark Few wanted to see his team “settle down, play tougher, and play with more poise.” He got that in the second half as the Zags put together a mature twenty minutes despite the best efforts of the referees, whose performance can only be labeled as a dumpster fire. Three Gonzaga players fouled out of this game, and if the game were any longer, I’m sure the refs would have found a way to send Zach Collins to an early shower as well.
Fortunately, Johnathan Williams recovered from the early foibles to put together an excellent performance with 16 points on 8-9 shooting. Coupled with Melson, who hit a pair of clutch three-pointers, including one that gave Gonzaga its first lead of the game (60-57) with 8:33 to go, the Zags were able to put together a 15-2 run from which Florida never recovered.
One final push from the Gators in the closing minutes ensured that Gonzaga fans wouldn’t be able to breathe until the clock read zero. But, the biggest dunk of the night from Zach Collins, and clutch free throws from Silas Melson helped ice the game. and keep the Zags undefeated on the season.