“It’s just an awesome, awesome, feeling to be able to fight our way back to another Final Four,” head coach Mark Few said. “The guys came out and played with tremendous energy and toughness on both ends on the floor.”
Gonzaga was the clear favorite, but this was supposed to be the Zags’ toughest competition in the NCAA Tournament so far. The Trojans had the personnel to give the Bulldogs some difficulties, but Gonzaga was the better team as a whole.
The Zags have many strengths. They have a deep offense, are quick in transition, dominate in the paint, and, although it doesn’t get talked about enough, they can also defend. USC got a front row ticket to that show on Tuesday.
Drew Timme set the tone when he stole the ball 18 seconds in. He missed a layup but was able to get the rebound before being fouled by USC forward Evan Mobley.
“He gets us all going, he gets us all fired up,” freshman Jalen Suggs said after the game, as he tried to do his best impression of Timme’s mustache celebration. “We all feed off of it, we all run with it. He was dominant today. He came out and set the tone.”
The Trojans were shaken up early with two turnovers less than a minute into the game. Two minutes in, Suggs finished in transition and put the Zags up 7-0, prompting a USC timeout.
All eyes were on the Timme vs. Mobley matchup before the game. Mobley, a top NBA prospect, had a dominant season, and reminded everyone of his power with a nasty dunk against Oregon in the Sweet 16. Mobley can be intimidating, but Timme took over the conversation quickly.
As the clock read 11:28 in the first half, the Zags were holding the Trojans to 30% shooting while Timme had already collected 13 points. He grabbed two more by the end of the first period. Mobley had only taken four shots and made two of them. Half of his eight points came from free throws.
“He was aggressive all night,” Few said of Timme. “I know some people were worried about how he was going to handle the size there but I think our staff, and Drew, and his teammates knew that he was going to be fine.”
The sophomore finished the night leading all scorers with 23 points, five rebounds and four assists. He kept the energy up, even doing some “dime” celebrations.
Suggs also had a great night. The freshman picked up 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting to go with 10 rebounds, leaving him two assists shy of a triple-double. He walked into the postgame press conference with the net around his neck — a gift from his coach.
“I thought he was just going to give it to me for a second,” he said. “But he said ‘nah you keep it.’ I didn’t want to carry it so I just threw it on my neck.”
Corey Kispert’s numbers weren’t great, but even his off nights look good. The senior went 6-of-19 from the field but still managed to pick up 18 points. Few was impressed with his aggressiveness throughout the game while attacking the USC bigs. He also thought his three-pointers looked fine, they just happened to not go in.
“To end up on 18 on theoretically maybe somewhat of an off night is pretty damn impressive,” Few said.
The Zags’ largest lead of the night, 24 points, came halfway through the second half. They finished the game shooting 50% from the field while holding the Trojans to 39%. This is significantly lower than USC’s 47% average this season.
Four Trojans finished in double digits with Isiah Mobley leading the way with 19 points and seven rebounds. Evan Mobley didn’t have a terrible night, as he still recorded 17 on 5-of-11 shooting.
Gonzaga’s Elite Eight victory puts the Bulldogs at 30-0 overall. The Zags have now recorded an NCAA-record five straight 30-win seasons.
They will continue their journey on Saturday in the national semifinals against either Michigan or UCLA. Few said the team will be prepared, but for now, that’s not what’s important. Tonight it’s about taking it all in.
“We are smart enough, wise enough to know that these are really, really special times,” he said. “These are special accomplishments and they need to be celebrated. That’s how we are approaching it right now, enjoying the heck out of it.”