Gonzaga finds way to earn crucial win
Mark Few was without leading scorer Steven Gray for the entire second half due to back spasms. Sophomore forward Elias Harris battled foul trouble for most of the game and fouled out with more than six minutes remaining.
But Gonzaga found a way to pull off the win against Baylor in Dallas on Saturday.
The victory was critical for the program that everyone has deemed the ultimate mid-major, the one with staying power.
The ‘Zags have remained a national player for more than a decade now, but were on the brink of having to win the WCC tournament to keep their streak of going to the Big Dance alive.
Few seemingly always puts together a buzzsaw of a non-conference slate and the ‘Zags usually hold their own, but this year it began with a home setback to San Diego State.
There was the blowout loss to Kansas State in Kansas City, a 12-point defeat to the hands of Illinois in Seattle and then road losses to Washington State and Notre Dame.
Gonzaga entered the game with Baylor at 5-5 overall and running out of chances to earn resume wins that would give the ‘Zags any chance at an at-large bid.
But Few’s team found a way to get past Baylor in the Lone Star State and now he’ll have another opportunity this week against another one of its own: Xavier.
MOST IMPORTANT VICTORY: Gonzaga entered the game against Baylor down in Dallas with a 5-5 record and in dire need of a resume victory. The ‘Zags had lost to San Diego State and Illinois at home, to Kansas State in Kansas City and on the road against Notre Dame and Washington State. Steven Gray left the game late in the first half with back spasms and Elias Harris fouled out with six minutes left, but Mark Few’s team returned to Spokane with a much-needed win.
TEAM OF THE WEEK: There’s no shame in losing at home to No. 2 Ohio State, but when the Florida Gators lost to Central Florida down in Orlando a couple weeks ago, everyone was questioning Billy Donovan’s team. The Gators got back on track with a resounding win over the weekend down in Sunrise, Fla., against Kansas State – and they did it with improved defense.
STUD (PLAYER OF WEEK): When someone goes for 30 points and grabs 19 rebounds against a BCS team, it’s impressive. Then add in the fact that it was a freshman who put up those numbers in dominating an SEC club. That’s exactly what Ohio State freshman big man Jared Sullinger did on Saturday in an easy victory against South Carolina.
SHOWCASE PERFORMANCE: Not a lot of people know about Texas A&M sophomore forward Khris Middleton, but he has become Mark Turgeon’s go-to guy — and he delivered in an overtime victory against Arkansas on Saturday with a career-high 31 points.
MEMORABLE DEBUT: Kansas freshman point guard Josh Selby became eligible after his NCAA suspension and he wasted no time making his presence felt. He scored 21 points and drained a handful of 3-pointers — including the game-winning trifecta to help the Jayhawks hold off USC at home.
DEBUT NO ONE SAW: Renardo Sidney’s wait was a year and nine games, but the talented, skilled and enigmatic Mississippi State big man finally took the court for a game that counted on Saturday. It came down in the Bahamas in a game that wasn’t on television, but Sidney managed 12 points in 25 minutes as the Bulldogs got hammered by Virginia Tech. Sidney’s parents didn’t even attend the game.
WEEK TO FORGET: Nothing was easier. The Tennessee Vols shot up everyone’s poll after their road win against Pittsburgh a week ago, but Bruce Pearl’s team must have read too many clippings or something because they were swept this past week. First it was a home loss to Oakland University, but that didn’t even get their attention as the Vols then went down and came up short against a Charlotte team that came into the game with a sub-.500 mark.
DUD: Illinois appeared to avoid the early-season blunders that may have essentially kept Bruce Weber’s team out of the Big Dance a year ago. The Illini posted wins against Maryland, North Carolina and Gonzaga already, but lost in New York to Texas (no shame in that) and got knocked off by UIC in the United Center this past weekend.
MID-MAJOR TEAM OF THE WEEK: Drexel coach Bruiser Flint lost his leading scorer/point guard prior to the start of the season due to robbery charges, but the Dragons went into the Yum! Center and pulled the upset over an undefeated Louisville team. Drexel crushed Louisville on the glass and proved they may be a CAA contender despite being written off by many in the preseason.
UNBEATENS: The list of unbeatens is down to nine after BYU, Baylor and Cleveland State all lost over the weekend. The Big East has a trio – UConn, Syracuse and Cincinnati. Ohio State and Northwestern hail from the Big Ten while Duke (ACC), Kansas (Big 12), San Diego State (Mountain West) and Central Florida (C-USA) all remain without a blemish.
STILL LOOKING: There are a half-dozen teams still winless – including a pair, Alcorn State and Arkansas-Pine Bluff – out of the SWAC. UMBC, Colgate, UNC Greensboro and Centenary are the other D-1 teams without a victory.
WEEK’S TOP MATCHUPS:
1. Texas at Michigan State, Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET – The Longhorns took care of North Carolina on the road and now they’ll get a chance to knock off a Michigan State team that has lost to a trio of top-10 teams in East Lansing.
2. Missouri vs. Illinois, Wednesday at 9 p.m. ET in St. Louis – This matchup is always entertaining, but this one is intriguing as both are top-25 teams and the Illini are coming off a loss to UIC.
3. Xavier vs. Gonzaga, Wednesday at 11 p.m. ET – Chris Mack’s team will travel to the northwest and take on a ‘Zags club that got a huge win against Baylor in Dallas.
4. Georgetown at Memphis, Thursday at 8 p.m. ET – Josh Pastner’s team sorely needs a resume victory and gets a chance at home against the Hoyas.
5. UNLV vs. Kansas State, Tuesday at 9 p.m. ET in Kansas City – The Wildcats are no longer the favorites to win the Big 12 after the loss to Florida while Lon Kruger’s team has fallen as well.
6. USC at Tennessee, Tuesday at 7 p.m. ET – The Trojans nearly knocked off Kansas in Lawrence and now Kevin O’Neill’s team gets a crack at a Tennessee club that lost a pair last week.