There was a lot of talk about the Gonzaga Bulldogs flying 2,000+ miles to their game as the higher seeded team in a locale that benefited the lower seeded West Virginia Mountaineers. The final score tells the tale - the Bulldogs put together a complete offensive and defensive effort that never let the Mountaineers have a chance. Gonzaga walloped West Virginia 77-54, the second largest margin to Wisconsin's 24 point victory over Montana. The Bulldogs spread the wealth in a game that saw Elias Harris limited by fouls and then by a huge margin with 11 different players scoring, four of which hit double figures. The Zags shot 56% from the field and 53% from three point line. They came out hot and never took a look back.
The Ohio State Buckeyes also won in a very decisive fashion against the 15th seeded Loyola (MD) Greyhounds. The Buckeyes used their size advantage down low to out rebound Loyola 46-23. Forward Deshaun Thomas scored 31 points and collected 12 rebounds in the victory. Sophomore uber-forward Jared Sullinger was harassed into 4-14 shooting for 12 points and 12 rebounds in a game that never really saw Loyola competing past five minutes in.
While Ohio State looked predictably good, the real takeaway from the first match-up is how good Gonzaga looked. This was slightly offset by how bad West Virginia played. Sometimes it is really tough to get too excited about a blowout win like this, because although it was the Bulldogs administering the thrashing, the Mountaineers looked as listless as possible. Post game, Bob Huggins lashed at his team and star forward Kevin Jones placed the blame on his teammates for not being able to hit open shots. Still, the Zags put on a clinic in unselfish basketball. Robert Sacre and Gary Bell Jr. were tied at 14 points for the highest scorers on the team. The story of the Gonzaga Bulldogs this year has been when the team is on and all things are clicking, they are able to keep pace with most any other team in the nation. They like to get out and run the court. They play defense hard, chase after loose balls and crash the offensive boards. But that team doesn't always show up. Instead, players sometimes get lost and disappear into a sea of bungled half-court offensive sets and turnovers.
The Bulldogs will have to be running on all cylinders if they want to win on Saturday. Ohio State plays very tough basketball, and Jared Sullinger will be on the tip of everyone's tongue for preseason player of the year until he heads off to the NBA draft. The Buckeyes wing men are capable of putting up a lot of points like Thomas did on Loyola. The key for the Zags will be to take senior guard William Buford out of the game. He averages 14 points a game but he does it on volume shooting. He isn't a pass first oriented guard and it forces the wings and the forwards on Ohio State to create their own shots. Luckily, most of the Buckeyes are more than capable of doing this. Loyola was able to harry Sullinger into a poor game, but as Thomas proved, Sullinger isn't the only weapon on Ohio State. Gonzaga can let him score his 20 points and still have a good shot of winning. But they can't let him score 20 and have Thomas drop an additional 30 on top.
If the Buckeyes are able to clamp down on the Zags outside shot, Ohio State will run away with this game. Gonzaga opened up hitting 5-6 three pointers against West Virginia as they built what eventually became an insurmountable lead. Gonzaga has three very capable three point shooters in Kevin Pangos, Bell and Elias Harris. If the Zags outside shots are falling, it really opens up the floor for Sacre to dance around in the post. If the Buckeye guards are able to shut this down, Sacre will find minimal space at best. A lot of things need to go right for Gonzaga to win this game and that is what makes performances like last night's win over West Virginia even harder to deal with. Last night, the win came so easy. Tomorrow night, the win is going to be much harder to come by, if it comes by at all.
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