The No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament is into the second round after blowing by No. 16 Norfolk State for a 98-55 Gonzaga victory.
It's the 12th straight tournament where Bulldogs head coach Mark Few has brought his team to the round of 32 as 2021 looks like his best chance to deliver a long-awaited title back to Spokane, Washington. Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme combined for just 16 points in the victory as an overmatched Spartans team could hardly keep up.
Norfolk State (17-8) needed a career performance from reserve guard Jalen Hawkins to eek out a 54-53 victory over Appalachian State in the First Four for the right to face the Zags. That would prove to be the team's lone highlight in the NCAA tournament as the Spartans' second-ever appearance ends the same way their first did—with just one victory before elimination.
The still undefeated Bulldogs (27-0) now move onto face No. 8 Oklahoma as Gonzaga attempts to reach the Sweet 16 for the sixth straight tournament.
Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga Bulldogs: 23 PTS, 6-9 3PT, 5 REB
Joel Ayayi, G, Gonzaga Bulldogs: 15 PTS, 9 REB
Devante Carter, G, Norfolk State Spartans: 12 PTS, 4 AST
Kyonze Chavis, G, Norfolk State Spartans: 12 PTS, 4 STL
Kispert in Control For Zags
Just when it looked like Gonzaga could be in for a bit of trouble after Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs fell into early foul trouble, Corey Kispert came to the rescue and then some for the top-seeded Bulldogs.
In an epic first half performance, Kispert went 5-of-7 from behind the arc with 15 points as the Zags turned a one-point deficit with 12 minutes left in the first half into a 20-point lead at the break. None of the early bad breaks seemed to faze the Bulldogs even a little bit.
As Suggs went to the bench early, Anton Watson came in and promptly went 4-for-4 from the field with five rebounds, two assists and a steal.
Saturday night felt as much like a tune-up game for Gonzaga as anything else—even by No. 1 vs. No. 16 standards.
Mark Few's club spent much of the second half feeding the players who struggled in the first frame. They tossed lobs to Suggs to make sure he got a few highlights, fed Timme down low to make sure he got his post game working and cleared the way for freshman guard Julian Strawther to knock down a few shots from deep in order to get used to playing in the tournament.
Rarely will postseason games look as easy as the Zags showed on Saturday night. Which is exactly why Few tried to take advantage in every way, turning an ugly start into a complete team win.
Yet before that could happen, it was Kispert who showed even if he's not the team's top option, he's reliable enough to keep the team afloat when things look rough.
Zags' Depth Too Much For Spartans
In theory, Norfolk State did everything it was supposed to if it wanted to upset Gonzaga on Saturday.
The Spartans put likely lottery pick Suggs in foul trouble four minutes into the game and held him to just four points with 12 minutes remaining in regulation. NSU put forward Timme in early foul trouble, too, taking away another of Gonzaga's top playmakers.
The Spartans even matched the Bulldogs with six turnovers in the first half.
None of it mattered.
Not with Joel Ayayi, Kispert and Watson still on the floor. The trio combined for 30 points through 20 minutes as the Bulldogs took a 20 point lead into halftime. As much as Norfolk State did right, it couldn't keep up with the depth of Gonzaga.
The Spartans shot 27.3 percent from the floor in the first half to Gonzaga's 46.7 percent with NSU connecting on just three three-pointers. That was never going to be enough against the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament no matter how well the rest of Norfolk State's game plan worked.
Getting the right breaks against Gonzaga won't be enough for any team in the tournament. The Spartans can take some solace there.
Anything less than a perfect game against the Bulldogs won't lead to a victory. And even then it might not be enough to topple Few's best team in years.
Gonzaga advance to face No. 8 Oklahoma in the second round Monday. No tipoff time was announced as of Saturday night.