Last night’s Sweet Sixteen games in the West region featured two nail biters, including one wild upset. Let’s take a look at last night’s games and preview the upcoming Elite Eight matchup.
Gonzaga Bulldogs vs. West Virginia Mountaineers
Press Virginia certainly put up a fight against one of the best, if not the best, team in the tournament. Gonzaga had a plethora of talented guards, led by the Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss. The question was would West Virginia be able to score the ball if they could not turn the Bulldogs over. Well, it was not the press that worked for West Virginia, it was the ferocious double teams that they sent every-which way in the half court. It did not matter if it was the towering Pzemek Karnowski in the low-post or the shooters of Jordan Mathews or Josh Perkins on the wings, West Virginia was flying all over the court defensively. This ended up causing 16 turnovers for Gonzaga who did not look ready for that kind of pressure in the half court.
All of that effort went unrewarded as the talent of Gonzaga shone through, pulled off a 61-58 in what could only be categorized as a dog-fight. Neither team looked pretty, but that was clearly the Mountaineers game-plan. Star guard Jevon Carter almost single-handedly pulled off the upset as he recorded 21 points, the only West Virginia player to score in double figures. While four of the five Gonzaga starters scored at least 10, it was success by committee. Despite this, West Virginia had the ball as time wound down with a chance to tie and could not even get a field goal attempt off. It was a good run for Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers, but their lack of depth was their demise.
Xavier Musketeers vs Arizona Wildcats
For many the two biggest Cinderella stories in this tournament were the Michigan Wolverines and Northwestern Wildcats. But after the Xavier Musketeers overthrew number two seed Arizona in a thrilling game Thursday night there is no doubt, Xavier is the official Cinderella of this tournament. The eleventh seeded Xavier have relied heavily on star guard Trevon Bluiett so far this tournament, that trend continued against the Wildcats as he poured in a game-high 25 points. It seemed like Bluiett could not miss in the first half going 7/8 from the field for 15 points, while his opponent Allonzo Trier could not buy a basket. The two seemed to do a switch in the second half as Bluiett struggled to stay hot while Trier scored 12 straight points for Arizona.
Late in the game it looked like Arizona might pull away as they opened up a six point lead with less than five minutes left. But this pesky Xavier team fought back behind some clutch shooting by Senior guard Malcolm Bernard. The 6-6 player out of Miami scored 15 points, 8 of which were late in the second half, on a terrific 5-6 from the field. Arizona suddenly went cold in the dying minutes of the game and Xavier took the lead 73-71 with a beautifully designed play to forward Sean O’Mara who got an easy layup with 40 seconds left in the game. Despite the time remaining, Arizona was unable to capitalize and will be leaving the tournament early.
Gonzaga vs Xavier Preview
This is going to be the most difficult game of the tournament for Xavier as this Gonzaga team is loaded at every position. Granted, not many gave them a fighting chance against this outstanding Arizona squad. Without their best player Edmond Sumner who went down with a torn ACL in January, Xavier will have to continue to rely on Trevon Bluiett who is quickly building a Kemba Walker-esque name for himself. The challenge for Xavier will be defending the big-men of Gonzaga. A very physical group, Gonzaga could have a feast in the paint. If everything goes to script Gonzaga will win this game by 20, but nothing Xavier has done all season has been to script so perhaps another upset is on the horizon.