PHOENIX — With scouts from 25 different NBA teams on hand, Gonzaga and Tennessee put on a show in Phoenix on Sunday. Talking Stick Arena was packed with Zags fans, but the Tennessee Volunteers prevailed in a nail bitter, 76-73.
Admiral Schofield willed Tennessee to victory, hitting the game-winning three with 17 seconds left. Schofield scored 30 points, with 25 coming in the second half. He also shot 6-10 from three.
Top-ranked Gonzaga led by eight with under 10 minutes to play, but saw their lead slip away against the seventh-ranked Volunteers. Here are some takeaways:
Gonzaga needs Killian Tillie back:
Gonzaga has enough guys to still be really good, but it would have been nice to have a 48 percent three-point shooter on the court in that final possession. Tennessee did a good job of guarding Rui Hachimura’s mid-range step back late in the game and did a great job contesting Zach Norvell’s last-second shot. In addition, Tillie will add to the Zags’ much-needed depth. Tillie is a difference maker that will make this Zags team a lot better. The fact they have done this well so far is a testament to the rest of the team’s talent.
Clarke wasn’t able to lead his team to a victory in front of his friends and family in Phoenix. However, he did provide this insane block:
Ladies and gentlemen ... Here. It. Is. pic.twitter.com/FGBaKgJPhg— Gonzaga Basketball (@ZagMBB) December 9, 2018
In the postgame press conference, Clarke said he “likes the challenge of blocking people with bounce.”
The block energized the crowd and the Internet. Clarke had a pretty good game too, finishing with 21 points on 8-9 shooting while adding nine rebounds. He was one of Sunday’s breakout stars.
Is this the formula to beat the Zags?
Tennessee was able to get open shots with constant ball movement and good passing from its bigs. They also added some physicality inside. Tennessee never allowed Gonzaga guards Norvell and Josh Perkins to get in a rhythm. Perkins was 0-6 from the field, while Norvell was 5-13. Gonzaga becomes unstoppable when Perkins is able to create opportunities for his teammates and is able to put the ball in the bucket on his own. Tennessee’s Yves Pons and Jordan Bone were both defensive problems for the Zags. This Gonzaga team will be much different once it gets Tillie back — it will add another shooter and teams won’t be able to focus solely on Norvell. Gonzaga coach Mark Few will hold this loss over the head of this Gonzaga team and they won’t make the same mistakes. Many teams will try to employ Tennessee’s strategy, but they still likely won’t prevail.
Two potential Final Four teams:
Few mentioned postgame that the game had a Final Four feel to it. If you pay attention to college basketball, you know Tennessee is damn good. The Volunteers outplayed Kansas for 33 minutes until the Jayhawks got hot late in the NIT Season Tip-Off. This was a game that could have gone either way. Tennessee is the likely favorite to win the SEC at this point and this loss won’t hurt the Zags too much.