Jordan Mathews scored 16 points to help Gonzaga slowly pull away from South Dakota State for a 66-46 victory and avoid the first 1 vs. 16 upset in the history of the NCAA tournament.
SALT LAKE CITY – Gonzaga in the mid-to-late 2000s was known as Guard U, after producing a string of outstanding backcourt players.
During its near two-decade run of NCAA tournament appearances, the Zags have typically relied on their offense and skilled point-producers both inside and outside.
Meet the current Zags. The defensive-minded Zags.
Second-ranked Gonzaga endured one of its roughest offensive performances of the season behind a defense that again did the heavy lifting in a 66-46 victory over South Dakota State on Thursday at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
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The top-seeded Zags (33-1) will face No. 8 Northwestern, which edged No. 9 Vanderbilt 68-66, in Saturday’s round of 32.
“Our defense carried us this entire game, which it has a lot this year,” coach Mark Few said. “I think more than people realize.”
The Zags held the 16th-seeded Jackrabbits (18-17) to a whopping 31 points below their per-game average. Gonzaga limited Mike Daum, the nation’s second-leading scorer at 25.3 per game, to 17 points.
Daum scored six points in a 2:15 span late with the Zags comfortably in front.
The Zags kept Daum in check and the Jackrabbits didn’t have an option B or C. Johnathan Williams defended Daum, which at times put 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski on 6-7 wing Reed Tellinghuisen, a capable three-point shooter.
Karnowski did an admirable job as Tellinghuisen, SDSU’s second-leading scorer at 11.9 points, was just 1 of 10 on three-pointers and finished with six points.
“It was tough, but that’s what he does (shoots threes),” Karnowski said. “We were preparing that plan the entire week since Selection Sunday.”
South Dakota State had a defensive game plan, too. On the first play, the Jackrabbits essentially double-teamed Karnowski even with the ball on the opposite side of the court. The Jackrabbits clogged the paint, typically with four defenders, and dared the Zags to make perimeter jumpers. The Zags misfired time after time.
The result was both teams engaging in a rim-bruising contest in the first 20 minutes. They clanked jumpers left, right, short, long and mixed in a few air balls.
The Jackrabbits went dry from just about everywhere in the final 7:40. Daum’s catch-and-shoot three-pointer accounted for SDSU’s lone points in that stretch before the halftime buzzer as the Zags took a 26-22 lead.
“It was something we hadn’t seen before,” said GU guard Jordan Mathews, who scored 16 points. “It was a matter of making shots. It took us a couple of minutes to figure out, but once we did it was basketball again.”
Gonzaga gradually pulled away in the second half, using a 12-2 run to build a 52-35 lead. Five…