Gonzaga senior center Robert Sacre’s pregame message to his younger teammates before facing West Virginia made up for in directness what it lacked in eloquence.
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”Hit `em, is all you’ve got to say,” Sacre said. ”Hit `em, be physical, let everything else work itself out. As long as you’re physical, that’s all that matters. Show that Gonzaga’s not soft.”
Done and done.
Dominating the lethargic Mountaineers on both ends of the floor, the Bulldogs rolled to a 77-54 win Thursday night in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Sacre and Gary Bell Jr. scored 14 points apiece for seventh-seeded Gonzaga (26-6), which will play Ohio State or Loyola (Md.) in the third round on Saturday.
Kevin Pangos added 13 points and five assists, and the fight the Bulldogs were expecting from the 10th-seeded Mountaineers (19-14) never materialized. West Virginia shot 32 percent (16 of 49) from the field and had no answer when Gonzaga went on a 13-0 run midway through the first half to break it open.
”This is the worst defensive team I’ve ever had in 30 years,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said. ”We don’t get the help, we don’t get the loose balls. We don’t do the things we’ve done for years and years and years.”
And the Bulldogs did.
Playing the versatile, brainy style that’s become the program’s calling card during its 14-year NCAA tournament run, Gonzaga controlled things from the opening tip and never let West Virginia get in the game.
Coach Mark Few worried his inexperienced roster would have trouble with the 6-hour flight east from Spokane, Wash., and the hostile crowd that tilted heavily toward the Mountaineers, a short 75-mile bus trip from Consol Energy Center.
Pangos wasted little time putting his coach’s fears – and his own – to rest. The freshman hit his first shot in NCAA tournament play and his second, a 3-pointer that gave Gonzaga the lead 90 seconds into the game. Bell added one of his own and Elias Harris quickly followed.
”I had jitters going into it, I’ll be honest,” Pangos said. ”Once you get playing, it’s just the same game. It was easier. Everyone brought it on the court. It was a lot of fun, playing with the guys. Everyone did their part.”
Gary Browne led the 10th-seeded Mountaineers with 15 points off the bench and Kevin Jones scored 13 in his final game for West Virginia, handed its worst postseason defeat in 28 years despite a decided home-court advantage.
”(Gonzaga) came out tougher, more aggressive, more energized than we were,” Jones said. ”You see the result of it. They were the better team.”
On every inch of the floor.
Its offensive flow disrupted by Gonzaga’s in-your-jersey defense, West Virginia failed to play with any rhythm on either end. The Bulldogs bottled up Jones and were more than happy to let forward Deniz Kilicli and senior guard Darryl ”Truck” Bryant try to beat them.
Bryant, playing in his sixth and final NCAA tournament game for the Mountaineers, couldn’t get going. He missed all five of his shots during a miserable first half and finished with nine points on 2-of-10 shooting while getting badly outplayed by Pangos and Bell. Kilicli fared no better. The brutish center from Turkey said Wednesday he didn’t think the Bulldogs would be ”prepared” to face a team as physical as West Virginia.
Gonzaga was more than ready and proved it during the final 12 minutes of the first half in which it blew the game open. An acrobatic layup in traffic by Guy Landry Edi started a 13-0 burst that gave the Bulldogs a 27-10 lead.
The Mountaineers missed eight straight shots during the stretch and fell asleep on defense, a cardinal sin when you play for Huggins. During one sequence, Aaron Brown clanked a 3-pointer and then got caught watching – along with Bryant and Browne – as Edi streaked behind them and collected a long pass from Pangos for a dunk.
Huggins exploded out of his chair and called a timeout, but the Bulldogs kept right on going, taking a 40-22 lead at the break to cap a nearly flawless first half.
”We were getting open looks and we were just knocking them down,” Bell said.
The only real miscue came from sophomore point guard David Stockton, the son of Hall of Fame guard and Gonzaga alum John Stockton. Though the younger Stockton knocked down a 3-pointer during the game-turning run, he also airballed a free throw.
His father, sitting six rows behind the Gonzaga bench, stifled a laugh as his son shook his head, one of the few mistakes the Bulldogs made on a night they rolled into the round of 32.
Meanwhile, the Mountaineers slump into an offseason wondering what happened to the grittiness that’s been the team’s identity since Huggins returned to his alma mater. West Virginia’s defeat was its worst in the NCAA tournament since losing to Maryland by 25 in 1984.
Nearly three decades later, it may take Huggins just as long to get over a disappointing effort in which his players failed to compete.
”I’ve never gotten beat like that,” Huggins said. ”We just were never in the game. Shouldn’t say `never.’ Maybe a couple times. But not very well. I don’t know. Have to figure it out.”