Zags find tourney cure for season's woes
March, 15, 2012
By Dana O'Neil | ESPN.com
PITTSBURGH -- The month of March can be like a great big tub of aloe, here to cure all that ails you, make you forget everything that went wrong in the regular season.
And surely a lot went wrong for Gonzaga this season, or at least by the Zags’ incredibly high standards.
For the first time since 1997, Gonzaga won neither the West Coast Conference regular-season nor tournament titles. Worse, the Zags ceded both to rival Saint Mary’s.
It was not an entirely illogical result, considering this is a Gonzaga team heavily dependent on freshmen at key spots, but a tough pill to swallow nevertheless.
Two weeks later, and suddenly those things seem like ancient history.
Gonzaga, the original mid-major gone big-time, rolled over home favorite West Virginia 77-54, putting together arguably its most complete game of the season.
“We played pretty well against BYU in the [WCC] tournament, too, but yeah, this might have been our best,’’ coach Mark Few said.
The Zags flew 2,000 miles to play this game, compared to the 75-mile bus ride the Mountaineers took from Morgantown.
Somehow West Virginia looked jet-lagged.
The Mountaineers were never in it, trailing by 18 at the break and then merely playing out the clock from there, handing coach Bob Huggins his worst loss in NCAA tournament play since West Virginia's 21-point defeat to Duke in the Final Four in 2010.
Gonzaga did what it wanted on offense, shooting at 56 percent from the floor, and locked down WVU on the other end. Never a good shooting team, the Mountaineers were positively dreadful Thursday, clanking to the tune of 32 percent from the floor and a woeful 3-of-17 from the arc.
“The truth of the matter is, this is really a microcosm of our season,’’ Huggins said. “This is the worst defensive team I’ve had in 30 years. 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. A lot of it is because we’re so inept offensively. They get breakouts. We throw the ball around, throw the ball to them. That adds to it.’’
Robert Sacre came to Pittsburgh hoping he would finally get a taste of some Big East beefcake basketball. It never really happened. The Zags doubled Kevin Jones every time he touched the ball and Jones, who does a lot of his damage on the offensive glass, was fairly innocuous. He scored 13 but had just 4 rebounds and, more, only 2 offensive rebounds, as the Zags were able to match the Mountaineers’ effort on the glass, something Few had emphasized all week.
“I just want to go out with a bang,’’ Sacre said. “Coach always says, ‘Play like Rob, have a lot of energy, have passion, have fun.' That’s what I’m trying to do. That’s what the results are.’’
He’ll have another chance on Saturday, against either Ohio State or Loyola, and perhaps a little more of a soothing balm, too.