The Gonzaga Bulldog’s defense clamped down and the offense heated up for a key stretch in the second half as the Zags defeated the Grand Canyon Antelopes, 82-70, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
It seemed like the Zags were going to absolutely run away with the game from the get-go. Grand Canyon opened the game with four-consecutive turnovers as the Zags opened to a quick lead. But this is the NCAA Tournament, and nothing comes easily.
Grand Canyon fired right back with a 10-0 run that later morphed into outscoring the Zags 20-10 over the course of nine minutes as Gonzaga didn’t score a single point for five minutes. Some of it was normal-to-bad turnovers and some of it was just missing shots the Zags normally hit.
Eventually, the Zags broke out of the offensive slump, and led by Julian Strawther, who had 16 points at the half, Gonzaga and Grand Canyon just started trading buckets. The defensive intensity for the Zags wasn’t there as much, but the offensive focus was. Gonzaga scored on its final nine possessions to take a 40-36 lead into halftime.
With all of that said, being up by four sometimes felt thankful and not enough at the same time. Grand Canyon hit multiple shots as the shot clock buzzer sounded, some clutch and some just very tough shots.
[Stopped focusing on the Gonzaga game and watched KenPom No. 298 and No. 16 Fairleigh Dickinson defeat Purdue, meanwhile Gonzaga scored a bunch fo points and led 64-42 with 10 minutes left.]
The defense started clicking once again, holding the Antelopes without a bucket for nearly seven minutes to extend the lead (or so the announcer told me). That lead would be more than enough to hold off whatever Grand Canyon threw at the Zags to close out the game.
The Zags got big performances from the usual suspects in Strawther (28 points) and Drew Timme (21 points). Anton Watson, as is usually the case, was the x-factor, scoring 14 points and grabbing 10 rebounds, including five offensive boards.
The offensive glass was a big factor for the Zags’ success. When the initial shots weren’t falling, Gonzaga’s hard work on the glass kept them in it. The Zags finished the game with 16 second-chance points.
Defensively, however, tonight was the sort of game that we all wanted to see from the Zags for the most part. They were aggressive in defending the paint, swatting a season-high eight blocks. They largely made Grand Canyon work for every single bucket outside of a few wide-open threes in the closing minutes. The defense did all the work while the offense sputtered. Then, when the offense got going, it was all gravy.
Survive and advance. The Zags did just that for the 14th-straight tournament in the first round.