It was ugly. The officials called about as many fouls as either team scored points. But it’s March, so of course it was entertaining from start to finish.
West Virginia went just 16-60 from the field (26.7%), Gonzaga did only a little better by hitting 18 of 44 (40.9%). Jevon Carter, about the only Mountaineer who played well, led the game with 21 points. Przemek Karnowski, Johnathan Williams and Jordan Mathews all scored 13 points for the Zags.
The Zags are now back in the Elite Eight for the third time in program history, and the second time in the past three seasons. This was their third straight trip to the Sweet 16.
Gonzaga didn’t have much trouble with the vaunted West Virginia press, committing just one first half turnover against it. But it was a slow, defensive battle nonetheless. Though that had more to do with the guys in black and white.
The Zags were particularly hard hit by fouls. Johnathan Williams scored 11 of his 13 points in the first, but sat for the final 7:45 with two fouls.
Mark Few had his team go into a zone defense to avoid picking up more fouls. It was effective, but the Mountaineers climbed back into the game none the less. Gonzaga scored just one field goal over the final eight minutes of the first half.
At the break Gonzaga had scored 30, West Virginia had scored 30 and the officials had called 27 fouls.
The second half was a bit more open. Gonzaga found its shooting touch early and pulled out a multi-possession lead. Jordan Mathews (13 points) hit back-to-back threes to give the Zags a 41-34 lead. Before that sequence the teams were a combined 2-19 from long range.
Jevon Carter (21 points) went 3-6 from deep. The rest of the Mountaineers combined for just one three pointer.
After that West Virginia went on a 10-2 run that tied it back up at 47 with just under nine minutes to play. With the game once again knotted up the teams and officials reverted to their first half approach.
It was ugly.
Nigel Williams-Goss (10 points) was called for two offensive fouls in rapid succession, both for pushing off, while trying to break the press. They were his third and fourth personal fouls.
It got uglier.
The officials spent over three minutes trying to figure out something. We really don’t know what, though. They called Nathan Adrian (six points) out of bounds initially, with 1:59 left. Their final call was that he wasn’t out of bounds, which was correct. West Virginia ball. Proper call, but apparently it was reached improperly.
That is a joke...Inadvertent whistle was not the call...BY RULE you can not award the ball to West Virginia even though it was a bad call— Sean Farnham (@SeanFarnham) March 24, 2017
Despite the error, and incredibly rhythm-killing way in which it was reached, the good guys found a way to survive despite 51 total fouls.
Jordan Mathews drained a transition three with 59.2 seconds left that gave the Zags a two point lead. It was followed by a Silas Melson (seven points) free throw which ensured that Gonzaga would not lose in regulation.
West Virginia had multiple looks on their final possession, but they needed a three. Each three point heave came from progressively further away until the final one, which came after the final buzzer.
West Virginia’s season ends at 28-9. Gonzaga improves to 35-1, tying the program record for victories set in 2015. The Zags will take on 2-seed Arizona or 11-seed Xavier in the Elite Eight on Saturday.