Sweet 16 in Anaheim: 4 teams, 2 A’s, a B-, and a big F

A Sweet 16 take
Source: Spokesman.com

Playing in front of a 3/4 filled Honda Center Arena, the top-seeded Zags of Gonzaga (earned an A- grade) went wire to wire to defeat the Seminoles of Florida St (B-). The crowd was mostly in favor of Gonzaga, but it had the “feel” of a JV game before the varsity. No buzz or suspense for 30 minutes until FSU finally put something together and pulled within 4 points with about 5 minutes to play. Gonzaga quickly responded and squelched any upset thoughts extending the lead back to 8 and eventually the 12-point final margin. The Zags are a solid squad and got excellent leadership from veteran head coach Mark Few and point guard Josh Perkins. Perkins finished with 14 points and 5 assists and led the team in +|- of 18. Four Zags scored in double figures, led by Rui Hachimura with 17. The Seminoles were led by Trent Forrest’s 20 points but were perhaps doomed from the start as 7-foot slender big man Christ Koumadje was only able to play 11 minutes (only 2 in the first half) due to foul trouble. He scored 8 points and hauled in 3 rebounds while on the floor, showing some dominance at both ends of the court. After the game, Gonzaga players walked right past me into the tunnel and were thrilled to have exacted revenge for last season’s Sweet 16 75-60 defeat at the hands of this same Florida State team. They’ve now advanced to their third Elite 8 appearance since 2015 (all in the odd years 2015, 2017, 2019)

The nightcap, and main event, had more buzz and intensity from the packed Honda Center house during warm-ups than did the entire first game. The Wolverines of Michigan (earned an F grade) entered a slight favorite over Texas Tech (solid A) but played anything like the favorite in this game. They could not throw a pea in the ocean, as the famous late Chick Hearn used to say, finishing 1-19 (5.3%) from the 3-point line. Tech was quicker to the ball, sharper with their offensive movement, and played with more relaxed intensity than their counterparts. After a slow first 10 minutes, the Red Raiders began to put the ball in the hole and built an 8-point halftime lead. At halftime I was in the hallway just outside the closed Michigan locker-room door. I overheard Coach Beilein initially urging his squad, and there was no panic. I expected a strong second half from a program that reached the finals just one season ago. They delivered anything but a strong second half. Texas Tech ripped off 14 of the first 16 points after intermission opening up a 20-point lead, looking all the part of a final four contender. Coach Beard, a Bob Knight disciple, worked continuously on the Red Raiders sideline, and directed his players at all times. I was completely impressed by him and his staff. Tech was led in scoring by J. Culver with 22 and D. Moretti with 15. Saturday’s Elite 8 at 3:09 PDT should be an epic battle between 2 evenly matched teams with great coaching staffs. What else would you expect?

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