No. 1 seed Gonzaga (34-1) vs. No. 4 seed West Virginia (28-8)
Thursday, March 23, 7:39 p.m.
After underwhelming performances in the NCAA first two rounds against South Dakota State University and Northwestern, No. 1-seed Gonzaga (34-1) advanced to face No. 4 seed West Virginia (28-8) Thursday in the West region semifinal round in San Jose, California.
Despite only shooting 31 percent from field goal range against 16-seed SDSU, they later slowly pulled away from the Jackrabbits getting a 20-point lead with 5 minutes left. They won 66-46.
A controversial missed goal-tending call helped Gonzaga regain control against No. 8-seed Northwestern and take the second round win 79-73. Northwestern went on a 20-5 run and cut the Zags lead to single digits before a technical foul ended the Wildcats’ momentum.
Turnovers were an issue for the Bulldogs against Northwestern. They committed 13 turnovers and Northwestern capitalized, scoring 17 points off turnovers in the second half.
Gonzaga will have to tighten their offense Thursday as they take on West Virginia, who leads the nation in turnovers forced with 20.1 per game and 10.2 steals per game thanks in part to their menacing “Press Virginia” defense.
No. 5-seed Notre Dame could not handle the Mountaineer’s defense, committing 14 turnovers and losing to the Mountaineer’s 83-71. Although the Fighting Irish have the second lowest turnover percentage nationally at 9.5 per game, they committed 10 in the first half alone. West Virginia capitalized on these errors jumping out to a 10-0 lead and never gave it up.
Gonzaga will look to junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss to lead the team against the Mountaineers. The Washington transfer, who sat out the 2015-16 season, averages 16.7 points per game and 4.7 assists per game. According to CBS Sports his ability to both run the fast break and play at a steady pace will keep the Bulldogs calm and confident. He also has a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio with 161 assists and 72 turnovers, which could be key to breaking the West Virginia press.
The Zags also have height to their advantage with 7 foot 1 center Przemek Karnowski. The senior center averages 12.4 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game and one block per game. Gonzaga has another seven footer with center Zach Collins. The 7”0’ freshman has been hot this tournament.
Over the two contests, Collins averaged 12 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.5 blocks in just 21 minutes played per game. Collins has proved his presence, leaving some to believe he makes the team just as good, if not better, when Karnowski leaves the floor, according to SB Nation.
Conversely, the Mountaineers have a deep rotation with 10 players averaging 11 minutes per game. They have only one player, leading scorer Javon Carter (13.3 ppg), who has played over 30 minutes in a game this season.
Although they do not have a center with the height to match Gonzaga’s 7-footers, their athletic crew features the guard trio of Carter, junior Daxter Miles Jr. and senior Tarik Phillip that sportingnews.com referred the threesome as the most underrated in all of college basketball. Against Notre Dame the three guards combined for 54 points with nine rebounds and eight assists. They shot 7 of 10 from behind the arc and were 13 for 15 from the free-throw line.
ESPN analysts predict Gonzaga coming away victorious and going all the way to Final Four, a first in school history. Analysts believe if they stay composed against West Virginia’s press and play an equally strong defense like they did against Northwestern, their height will favor them for the win.
The Bulldogs have only been to the Elite 8 twice, in 1999 and 2015. Last year, they were defeated 63-60 in the Sweet Sixteen by Syracuse. If West Virginia pulls off the upset, it will be their fourth time surviving the Sweet Sixteen. Their last time being in 2010, when they advanced to the Final Four before losing to Duke 78-57, who went on to win the National Championship.
Sydnee Over is a journalism student at the University of Connecticut.