Gonzaga's best year ever ends in the Elite Eight at the hands of the Duke Blue Devils. Mike Krzyzewski will now be making his 12th Final Four appearance.
The Bulldogs struggled shooting the ball once again, going just two of ten from three. Stagnant offense against one of the nation's very best teams wasn't enough to get it done today in Houston. It's an uncharacteristic end to a wonderful season from the Zags, who finish with a program record 35 wins to just three losses.
The four-year starting backcourt combination of Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell Jr. have now played their last game as Bulldogs.
Duke set the tone early on both ends of the floor. Jahlil Okafor and Quinn Cook both picked the pockets of Gonzaga's senior backcourt within a minute of each other, which led to easy Blue Devil baskets at the other end. When they weren't getting to the hoop in transition they were showing that it is possible to shoot the ball in the unfriendly environment of NRG Stadium.
The Blue Devils knocked down three threes before Gonzaga's first attempt from long range.
Gonzaga appeared shell-shocked to start the game but got a big boost off the bench from Domantas Sabonis. Within 30 seconds with just over eight minutes to play in the first half the six-foot-ten freshman blocked a Jahlil Okafor shot and took the ball away. When the Zags got down on offense he drew a foul on Okafor then another, this time a shooting foul, on Tyus Jones and completed the three point play.
Along with the spark plug Sabonis, Byron Wesley helped right the Zags' offense with a late half surge. Down by as much as 11, Wesley cut the lead to one possession before Sabonis made it a one point game with 3:50 to play.
That energy rolled over into the second half as Gonzaga opened with a quick 5-0 run to tie the game at 31.
Matt Jones (4-7 from three) connected from long range to reclaim the lead but Gonzaga took it right back. The Zags would expand their lead to as much as four points with 16:20 to play.
Both teams suffered from multiple, extended cold spells during the game and just as it looked like the Zags had a chance to exert their will they went through a drought. After taking that four point lead the Zags went on a five plus minute stretch with no points and five turnovers. Duke rebuilt its lead to five points.
Turnovers, 13 of them coming, at inopportune times doomed the Zags today in Houston.
The final score doesn't accuately illustrate how close this game was for the majority of the forty minutes. Gonzaga trailed by just six points with less than three minutes remaining. Then a Justise Winslow dagger from three pushed the game to three possessions and forced the Zags into the foul game.
Duke did not miss a free throw down the stretch and was able to inflate the final margin to 14 points.
The Zags didn't do themselves any favors down the stretch however, missing easy buckets and failing to score from the field over the final 6:37 of the game. Kyle Wiltjer missed an uncontested lay-up that would have tied the game with 4:48 to play. Przemek Karnowski would have gotten another assist off of a no look pass had Wiltjer made the bucket but instead he had to sprint back on defense and wound up picking up his fourth foul.
Wiltjer did manage to finish tied for the game high with 16 points despite the critical miss. Byron Wesley (10 points) was the only other Zag in double figures.
Meanwhile for the Blue Devils balance was the key on offense. Justise Winslow and Matt Jones both finished with 16 points and Tyus Jones was one behind with 15. Quinn Cook was the final player in double figures with ten points.
Duke now advances to the Final Four to face seven seed Michigan State.