It was to be a game of firsts between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and Xavier Musketeers on the floor of the SAP Center today as both teams were out to settle just how the West was to be won for this year’s NCAA Tournament, en route to an historic first visit to the Final Four.
Prior to the opening tip of today’s game, much has been said about the fact that both programs have been on the cusp of a trip to the Final Four but were on the outside looking in most times around. Both were tied for most wins without a Final Four appearance at 27, and neither head coach has been to the holiest of holy levels in college basketball in their time as coach.
On top of all of this, the record in games between 1- and 11-seeded teams in the tournament is tied at 3-3.
With all of these dominoes on the cusp of falling, it would be the Zags marching on to the Final Four for the first time in the history of their program, leaving the Musketeers sadly a bridesmaid instead of the bride once again. The Bulldogs would dispatch the Musketeers by a score of 89-53.
The Musketeers had their moments and stretches where it felt like were on the verge of taking control or set a tempo to effectively counter the efforts of Gonzaga on and off the ball. The moment of the tipoff in particular stood out as the perfect chance for Xavier to get shifting into gear right away as Malcolm Bernard got the ball off a steal and break away for the easy two points to get the Musketeers off on the right foot with a game plan to go into the paint, but for the remainder of the game felt more of Xavier trying to get back to that point as Gonzaga got to work raining 3-pointers and attacking down low.
Their play was also boosted by the early hydra of Nigel Williams-Goss, Johnathan Williams, and Przemek Karnowski.
For the Musketeers, while their play was unable to keep the pace they did get solid minutes from their players this game. J.P. Macura was the focal point tonight for the Musketeers as he was able to weave in and out the Bulldogs. For his efforts, Macura finished the night with 18 points. Joining his performance were that of Trevon Bluiett who scoered 10 points and wound up tied for the team lead in rebounds with five.
As a team, the Musketeers shot the ball at a rate of 39 percent from the floor, 17% from 3-point range, and 62% from the foul line. They were even for the most part with Gonzaga in the battle of the boards with a hairsplitting 35 rebounds to 36 and in points in the paint with 32 points.
On the reverse end, Gonzaga tonight were anchored by the play of a host of players including the aforementioned hydra as Williams-Goss led the way with 23 points, Williams set a mark of 19 points, and Perkins a solid 11 points on the night. Karnowski while only posting five points on the game and was in the mix over the span of the game with his movement down low cleared space for the Bulldogs in the front court. As a team they shot the ball at a rate of 47 percent from the floor, 48 percent from 3-point range, and 52 percent from the foul line.
It was that kind of night where everything felt in sync for the Bulldogs.
It is bittersweet in a way for Xavier as once again they have found themselves to be on the outside looking in at this stage in the NCAA Tournament. Still though, their turnaround prior to the Big East Tournament up to tonight has been one run for this team to remember going forward. As for Gonzaga, they will be off to Phoenix for their first ever trip to the Final Four. A long awaited trip for the Bulldogs has finally come.