After dispatching of a very scrappy Akron team in the first round, the Gonzaga Bulldogs will face scorching hot Western Kentucky in the round of 32. All five starters scored in double figures as the 12th-seeded Hilltoppers upset Illinois in the first round, continuing their cinderella story from last season where they made the Sweet 16 as that same 12 seed. Will they make it back-to-back years or will the Zags make the second weekend for the first time in three seasons?
Meet The Opponent
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (25-8, Sun Belt Champs)
Ken McDonald has guided WKU to eight-straight victories behind a very balanced attack led by two explosive guards. The team shoots a ton of threes and they can catch fire at any moment. They went 9-for-19 in the win against Illinois, and they own a non-conference victory over number one seed Louisville. Obviously it’s a nice thing not to have to play the better seed, but Western Kentucky poses just as many problems as Illinois and they play as free as can be.
What to Watch For
AJ Slaughter (16 points, 3.6 assists) and Orlando Mendez-Valdez (14.2 points, 4.1 assists) have been terrors for opposing teams all season. Both have the ability to score off the bounce and both shoot more than six threes a game. Mendez-Valdez is one of the best three-point shooters in the entire country, nailing 101 triples at a 42 percent clip. Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Steven Gray and Demetri Goodson will all have their chances at guarding the duo in hopes of slowing them down.
The flip side of the coin is that Gonzaga has a huge advantage on the interior because of the Hilltoppers’ lack of size. They start just one player above 6’5, which should give Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt plenty of opportunity to work. Heyvelt was a monster against Akron, scoring 22 points and grabbing eight rebounds. Another performance like that and some shot making from the guards should hoist Gonzaga into the Sweet 16.