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Louisville’s defense grinds Gonzaga down in loss, 68-59

The Zags tournament ends at the hands of the No. 1 seed.

Gonzaga v Louisville Photo by Michelle Hutchins/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

The Gonzaga Bulldogs fought valiantly for the better part of three quarters, but in the end they could not withstand the defensive pressure of the No. 1 Louisville Cardinals, 68-59.

Things were looking pretty dire to start the game. The Louisville Cardinals employed a full court press that gave Gonzaga fits as they tried to get the ball across the court. Turnovers by Gonzaga and a few offensive rebounds by Louisville and the Cardinals opened the game on a 14-0 run.

However, the Zags weren’t going that quietly. The Zags patiently broke the press and the Zags answered with their own 12-0 run. After trading a couple of baskets, Gonzaga went into the second quarter only trailing 18-14.

Gonzaga’s defense continued to give Louisville fits, and Gonzaga slowly chipped away at the lead, finally tying it at 22 a piece on a nice last second shot from McKayla Williams. The two teams were trade baskets and free throws for the rest of the quarter and the Zags still hung close going into halftime, 36-32 (would’ve been 33-32 if not for an incredibly lucky bounce).

The deficit could’ve been worse, however. Louisville’s press and defense gave the Zags issues all half, forcing nine turnovers. The Cardinals couldn’t capitalize on those turnovers whatsoever, generating just three points. That changed in the second half.

The combination of Louisville’s defense, offensive rebounds, and some nice shots by Cashmere, Washington-native Hailey Van Lith, who led all scorers with 21 points, allowed the Cardinals to build a bit of separation between the two teams in the third quarter. While the Zags’ defense generally held strong on the first shot, the constant stream of second-chance points for Louisville made it difficult for the Zags to try and close the gap. Louisville was firmly in control after 30 minutes, leading 56-44 going into the final quarter.

Ultimately, that deficit would prove too large for the Zags to close. Gonzaga kept pace throughout the fourth quarter, but the continue clanks from long range made it hard to generate any momentum. Gonzaga finished shooting just 4-for-20 from long range.

As was often the case this season in losses, turnovers ended up being one of the big reasons for the loss. Gonzaga finished the game with 18 turnovers, leading to 26 Louisville points. Combined with the Cardinals relentless attack on the offensive glass, Louisville attempted 14 more field goals than the Zags did. With that level of disparity, it is borderline impossible to keep pace.

Any season that ends in a loss is disappointing, but it wasn’t a loss to hang the head too lowly on. The Zags did a fantastic job of rallying their season after the second loss to BYU this year, when everything looked a bit lost. They picked up another NCAA Tournament win and have plenty of pieces next season to come back for another solid year.