Gonzaga is bracing itself for the challenge West Virginia’s defense presents after looking at the results of the Mountaineers’ 83-71 win over Notre Dame in an NCAA Tournament second-round game last week.
The No. 1-seeded Bulldogs (33-1) play No. 4 West Virginia (28-8) in a West Regional semifinal game Thursday at San Jose, Calif. The winner advances to the Elite Eight to play the winner of Xavier-Arizona.
The Fighting Irish commit only 9.5 turnovers a game, which ranks second nationally. They almost turned the ball over that many times in the first half Saturday. They finished with 14 against the “Press Virginia” defense.
The turnovers are a cause for concern for Gonzaga, the top seed in the West Region, after the Bulldogs committed 13 turnovers in their 79-73 win over Northwestern in a second-round game. The Wildcats scored 17 points off turnovers in the second half to fuel a comeback.
“We got a little challenged at the other end and started making bonehead passes and bonehead decisions, and needed to just settle down,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We were trying to make plays in small windows. And we’re not very good when we do that.”
West Virginia (28-8) leads the nation in turnovers forced with 20.1 per game. Opponents turn the ball over on 28 percent of their possession, which also tops the nation.
“That’s what we do,” West Virginia coach Bub Huggins said of the havoc his defense presents. “We try to make people play kind of the way we want them to play.”
Gonzaga point guard Nigel Williams-Goss will be important against the Mountaineers’ press. His ability to run the fast break or play at a steady pace should give the Bulldogs confidence.
Williams-Goss has a better than 2-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio with 161 assists and 72 turnovers. Josh Perkins, the other significant ball-handler, has less favorable numbers with 113 assists and 68 turnovers.
Williams-Goss said the Bulldogs know what it takes to handle the pressure West Virginia may present because their resiliency is shown with only one loss on the season.
“We don’t think of anything as pressure,” Williams-Goss said. “We had pressure all year long. We were undefeated and we didn’t feel any of that. This is what we live for, what we prepare for and we enjoy doing. We all enjoy competing at the highest level.”
West Virginia was only an overtime loss at Kansas away from sweeping the No. 1-seeded Jayhawks during the regular season.
Because the Mountaineers use the entire length of the court, Huggins employs a deep rotation with 10 players averaging at least 11 minutes played per game. Leading scorer Jevon Carter (13 points per game) is the only Mountaineer to play at least 30 minutes per game (31.7).
The Mountaineers are a team of athletes that lacks a center who matches up in size with Gonzaga’s post player Przemek Karnowski, who is 7-foot-1 and 300 pounds.
Carter and fellow guards Daxter Miles and Tarik Phillip combined for 54 points on 17-of-29 shooting from the field with nine rebounds, eight assists and three turnovers in the win over Notre Dame. They shot 7 of 10 from 3-point range and 13 of 15 from the free-throw line.
“All year we’ve been telling ourselves that we got the best group of guards in the country, and we truly believe that,” Carter said. “So, when it’s time for us to play, we go out there and give it our all. Sometimes it worked. But we’re going to put forth 100 percent and we’re going to live and die with it.”