After cruising to as much as a 21 point advantage, the Gonzaga Bulldogs held off a late charge by the Northwestern Wildcats to advance to the Sweet Sixteen of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, 79-73.
The Zags were off and running early, hitting over 50% from the field and sprinting out to an early 18-6 lead. Northwestern had no answer for Gonzaga on either end of the floor.
Due to their pressure defense on the the ball handler, the Zags turned four early Wildcats turnovers into six easy fast break buckets. During a six minute scoring drought by Northwestern, Gonzaga capitalized with a 12-0 run. It’s difficult to contain a team that had seven different players lead a game in scoring throughout the season.
The Wildcats dry spell was finally concluded when center Dererk Pardon hit a soft, jump hook in the lane with just over ten minutes to go in the first half.
The Zags began to run out in transition more late in the half, and Coach Chris Collins’ Wildcats struggled to keep up. After a lob from star guard Nigel Williams-Goss to forward Johnathan Williams for a facial, the Zags looked to be in complete control.
Minutes later, Williams-Goss struck again with a steal and uncontested dunk on the other end, extending Gonzaga’s lead to a healthy twenty points, 32-12.
Northwestern guard Bryant McIntosh tried to get something going for the cats on the offensive end, completing a three point play. But, the Zags tore right back down the floor for another alley-oop dunk to make it 38-17, putting a stop to any would-be Wildcats momentum.
The Wildcats were absolutely abysmal shooting the basketball in the first half. They went 9-30 for an anemic 30% from the field overall.
Even worse, the three point shooting looked like something out of a Greek tragedy. The Wildcats missed their first nine attempts from downtown, and finished the half just 1-11.
Full credit to Coach Mark Few and his players though. They were able to create turnovers and force bad shots that utterly nullified any sort of offensive attack from Northwestern.
Gonzaga came out flat in the early going of the second half, allowing the Wildcats to get back in the game. A couple careless passes and poor shot selection by the Zags fueled a 12-3 burst to get the Northwestern back in the game, when maybe they shouldn’t have been.
Even so, the Zags still maintained a 13 point advantage when William-Goss ended another Wildcat run as he buried a three pointer from the top of the key.
As a result of Coach Mark Few’s willingness to play everyone on his bench, there was even a stretch when reserves Killian Tillie and Zach Collins scored 11 straight point for the Zags.
Northwestern closed the gap to nine when Nathan Taphorn netted a three-pointer from the left wing, 61-52.
More careless play ensued by Coach Few’s squad. Suddenly, after a missed floater went short from Williams-Goss, and a put back jam by Vic Law, the deficit was only five.
The Zags also got a break from the referees when a missed goaltending call led to Northwestern’s Coach Collins getting hit with a technical foul. Williams-Doss connected on both free throws and the lead was back to seven.
The Wildcats would get as close as five points, but could never quite get back to even with the Zags.
Nigel Williams-Goss led all scorers with 20 points on a forgettable 6-19 from the field.
The Zags will need a much more consistent effort next Thursday in San Jose when they face off against Bob Huggins and the pressure defense of the West Virginia Mountaineers.