Advertised as a defensive battle, Thursday's Sweet 16 duel between No. 4 West Virginia and No. 1 Gonzaga lived up to the billing. The Bulldogs outlasted the Mountaineers 61-58 at the SAP Center in San Jose, California.
Gonzaga's Jordan Mathews and West Virginia's Jevon Carter traded clutch shots late in a defensive-minded affair, with the former getting the last laugh to ice the instant classic:
Four players scored in double digits for the Bulldogs while trying to power through the press, paced by 13 apiece from Mathews, Johnathan Williams and Przemek Karnowski. But they couldn't shake the turnover woes that started in the prior round (13 against Northwestern), turning the ball over 16 times, shooting 40.9 percent from the floor (18-of-44) and only hitting 21 of 32 from the free-throw line.
Carter countered Gonzaga's defense with a game-high 21 points, and the Mountaineers hit 21 of 29 attempts from the free-throw line to counteract 13 turnovers and 26.7 percent shooting from the floor (16-of-60).
The box score doesn't show it thanks to 29 combined turnovers, 51 personal fouls and 61 free-throw attempts, but it was one of the most entertaining tournament games so far this year:
Thursday's game had a heavyweight feel to it. Aptly nicknamed "Press Virginia" came in forcing 20.1 turnovers per game, best in the NCAA. Gonzaga responded by attacking the press all 40 minutes, creating a stalemate of sorts, which was to be expected considering the Bulldogs ranked first in adjusted defensive efficiency at KenPom.com, the Mountaineers fifth.
West Virginia (24th in RPI at ESPN.com) cruised past fifth-seeded Notre Dame in the last round, 83-71, forcing the normally composed Fighting Irish into 13 turnovers. Gonzaga (No. 8 RPI) permitted a late comeback thanks to turnovers against eighth-seeded Northwestern in an eventual 79-73 win.
The first half was, in a word, sloppy. A review: a 30-30 tie, 13 combined turnovers, 27 combined personal fouls and 37 combined free-throw attempts. Both teams were likely happy to be in the game at all considering West Virginia shot 22.6 percent from the floor (7-of-31) and Gonzaga 37.5 percent (9-of-24).
It should go without saying, but any semblance of highlights centered on the defensive side of things:
Well, and a beard shimmy:
Maybe sloppy isn't a fair classification. This might work:
Regardless, the half featured a symbiotic relationship driving down the entertainment value—so many fouls led to unorthodox lineups.
The complexion of the game changed early in the second half when Mathews started hitting his looks. He hit back-to-back deep conversions, including this momentum-grabbing highlight:
Carter wasn't having any of it.
Keying a run all on his own, he kept the game within reach due to his efforts on the offensive end:
That said, Press Virginia was in full effect from rim to rim:
Gonzaga tried to stifle the pace late with the 7'1", 300-pound Karnowski.
Daxter Miles Jr., though, stepped up to nullify and provide Carter some help:
Mathews, though, responded before the Bulldogs finished the game strong in a half-court defensive set—no surprise given their defensive prowess.
With the win, Gonzaga advances to the Elite Eight to face either 11th-seeded Xavier or second-seeded Arizona. Either way, the Bulldogs and Mathews will look to shake the turnover woes in time for another heavyweight encounter.
After, the attention focused on Gonzaga head coach Mark Few and the team’s quest to reach the Final Four.
March Madness TV caught Few’s initial reaction:
West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins had some kind words for his guys as well despite the loss:
Evan Closky of KREM-TV caught up with Mathews in the locker room:
SWXRightNow caught more of Few’s reaction, which centered on his team’s approach: "These guys handled it very well ... we've talked all week about their half-court defense ... we had to rely on our feel."
Karnowski was one of a few players to praise a much-needed defensive adjustment: "We've been defending really well all season ... we held them to 26% from the field ... going to zone was a really good idea".
Advanced metrics courtesy of ESPN.com.