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Defense helps Gonzaga return to the Elite Eight

We know the Zags are great on offense. They’re elite on the other end as well.

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star Kareem Elgazzar via Imagn Content Services, LLC

The Gonzaga Bulldogs are known for offense, but head coach Mark Few credits their defense for their return to the Elite Eight.

The Zags took care of Creighton, 83-65, on Sunday in the Sweet 16. Coming into the game, Few knew the power the Bluejays could bring offensively, but the Bulldogs were able to handle it.

Creighton averaged 76.3 points per game this season while shooting at 47.4% from the field. Gonzaga held the Jays to 40.6% on Sunday. After the game, Few admitted that Creighton was not an easy team to prepare for.

“It’s a great win for us,” he said. “Once again, I really thought it was our defense that made the difference tonight. They are a scary offensive unit.”

Andrew Nembhard agreed. While he knows his team has a lot of offensive talent, he thinks their performance on the other side of the ball also deserves recognition.

“I think we are very overlooked defensively. I think when we have that side of the ball clicking is when we are really at our best,” Nembhard said. “They have a great offense and they were sticking with us at first.”

Creighton found itself trailing from the moment Nembhard opened the game with a three-pointer less than 30 seconds in. The Zags were off to a good start, leading 22-12 with 13:47 on the clock, but less than four minutes later Creighton had made it a two-point game at 27-25.

Gonzaga shook it off, pushed harder and finished the half with a 43-33 lead while shooting 60.7%. Timme and Nembhard had 12 points each. Creighton shot 39.5% with Marcus Zsgarowski as the most productive scorer (13 points).

It was a good first half for Bulldogs, but they turned up the intensity even more after the break.

Timme and Nembhard continued scoring, eventually finishing with 22 and 17 points, respectively. By the end of the game, Gonzaga had once again shown off how deep its offense could go. Joel Ayayi (13 points) and Corey Kispert (12) also scored in double figures.

The Zags dominated in the paint, 50-30, which Few said is probably his team’s best attribute, and that it says a lot about how they move and share the ball.

This is Gonzaga’s 22nd straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The competition is nothing new for Few, but even with all his experience, he doesn’t take it lightly. Advancing, he said, is never guaranteed.

“It’s really, really hard. You gotta be really good and you gotta be good on that particular night,” he said. “Obviously it takes a talented team. A good team. But it also takes a little luck and incredible focus by your guys to be the best in that particular afternoon or evening.”

Gonzaga, now holding a 29-0 record, will take on the winner of the USC/Oregon Game in the Elite Eight on Tuesday.