The Gonzaga Bulldogs will play in their fourth consecutive Sweet 16 this week, and the ride there has been just as tough as ever.
On Thursday, the Zags needed every extra ounce of effort to push past an ugly UNC Greensboro team intent on the upset. On Saturday, the Zags jumped out to an early 15-0 read, led by 11 at half, and scrambled to come back from a four-point deficit late in the second half.
In both games, there has been one constant: Zach Norvell. He hit the game winning shot on Thursday and one of the biggest threes of the game against Ohio State.
this stepback trey by Zach Norvell pic.twitter.com/97Ibo5fpL2— Sam Cooper (@SamDCooper) March 18, 2018
After a poor shooting night on Thursday, Norvell followed it up with a Herculean effort on Saturday, scoring 28 points, going 6-of-11 from three and grabbing 12 rebounds. It was a career night for the freshman guard, and the Zags needed it more than ever. A 15-0 run to open the game was quickly forgotten when momentum swung very much in the favor of Ohio State.
It wasn’t all Norvell, however. Rui Hachimura joined the party, scoring 25 points and picking up four key blocks (as well as hopefully, finally, painfully getting over those free throw jitters).
It was only fitting that a monstrous block by Hachimura came directly after Norvell hit his huge three, extending the lead to nine points. On the other end of the floor, who else is there diving on the ground and drawing the crucial fifth foul on J’Sean Tate than Norvell?
The second round game against Ohio State belonged to the two players from last year’s squad that saw the little to no action on the championship level team. With Johnathan Williams and Killian Tillie picking up two fouls early in the first half, it was up to Hachimura and Norvell to carry the squad.
Hachimura played out the second half like a champion, holding off his third foul until later in the second half. Norvell shook off his 3-of-12 shooting display on Thursday, burying three pointer after three point early in the game. His offense, combined with Rui, allowed for a quiet night from Williams and Tillie, who scored a total 16 points. Rui joined the highlight reel party, glancing at Mark Few on his way down for the exclamation mark dunk on Gonzaga’s own frenetic comeback.
It showcased the danger of Gonzaga, and how prepared this team is to win close games. On Thursday, Williams and Josh Perkins led the team in scoring. On Saturday, that burden was shouldered by Norvell and Hachimura. And this is two games of Killian Tillie completely losing his mojo from the WCC Tournament. The Zags are seemingly not at full strength in that regard.
Now, the Zags are in their fourth-straight Sweet 16 and the run continues. And as long as the run continues, the hand stands continue.