No. 11 Zags meet No. 21 Iowa State for title
No. 11 Gonzaga enters Sunday's game against defensive-minded No. 21 Iowa State coming off its most efficient offensive half of the season Friday in a 77-72 win over Florida.
The Bulldogs (5-0) erased an 11-point first half deficit by scoring 45 points in the second half, making nearly 61 percent of their shots.
Conversely, Iowa State (5-0) used its defense to reach the championship game of the AdvoCare Invitational in Orlando, Fla., on Sunday.
In a 73-56 win over Miami, the Cyclones forced the Hurricanes into 19 turnovers and held them to 36 percent shooting from the field, including a 2 of 14 mark from 3-point range.
“Defensively, we kept keeping on,” Iowa State coach Steve Prohm said. “We were walling up in the paint. When the shot went up, I thought everybody was attacking the glass.”
Gonzaga, meanwhile, shot mostly in the 70 percent range for in the second half in their comeback win over Florida.
“We ended up shooting 60 percent against one of the better defensive teams in the country, not just numbers wise but eye-test-wise,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
“That was an impressive job. There was some blood in the water and they were circling (in the first half), but we were able to put that aside and get back into attack mode.”
Gonzaga trailed or was tied with Florida for the first 31 minutes of the game.
Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams dunked off a feed from Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss to tie it at 57-57. Silas Melson made a 3-pointer to give the Bulldogs their first lead, 60-57, with 8:42 remaining.
“We came into the locker room and had to give ourselves a little gut check, because they were out-toughing us and outplaying us in the first half,” Melson said.
Melson scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half, including two free throws with 22.9 seconds to ice the game.
“I've been on him and on him to step up when we need him the most,” Few said of Melson. “He's a more confident player this year. I don't think we were shocked by that. Obviously we're all rooting or it after what he went through (shooting struggles) last year.
“He didn't start off the game well. He was extremely tentative. Then he set his feet and played with some pride.”
Iowa State's top shooters, guards Naz Mitrou-Long and Matt Thomas, are in need of setting their feet as well. They enter the game making only 31 percent of their shots in two games in the AdvoCare Invitational.
Prohm is more concerned about Iowa State's mental toughness entering its significant matchup with the Bulldogs. The Cyclones managed to survive against Miami despite committing 20 turnovers.
“The resilience, leadership and character of our seniors are huge for us,” Prohm said. “The thing that people question about us — our toughness and our defense — I thought that won games for us.”
Iowa State is looking beyond Sunday's game in terms of the magnitude a victory would be come March.
“We didn't come down here to play for second, third or fourth or fifth place,” guard Monte Morris said. “We came down here to win it all.
“We've put ourselves in position to do that. We're going to be able to get the job done.”