When Gonzaga and Texas Tech advanced to the Elite Eight the other night, my mind turned to, of all people, Erroll Knight. The Zags were going to be facing a rangy, slashing off-guard in Jarrett Culver, and didn’t really have an obvious defensive antidote, somebody like Knight.
As it happened, Knight was a key figure the last time GU played Texas Tech in the tournament, in the second round in 2005 in Tucson. The 6-6 transfer from Washington went 7 for 8 from the field for 14 points, and the Zags raced to a 13-point lead early in the second half against a Bob Knight-coached team. Ultimately, GU didn’t look inside enough – it had J.P. Batista and Ronny Turiaf and a 44-32 rebounding advantage that day – and Tech scrambled back and won, 71-69.
Texas Tech. In the last 15 years, the Zags have beaten Duke, North Carolina, Indiana and Michigan State, national-championship programs all. For some reason, Texas Tech is beyond them. They also lost a game in the 2008 Great Alaska Shootout to the Red Raiders, just a couple of months before Bob Knight retired. So it’s 0-3 all-time.
Turned out, Gonzaga did fine with Jarrett Culver. It was a lot of other people who beat the Zags, including themselves. Some thoughts:
-- The pace was Texas Tech’s, except for some flashes by Gonzaga in the first half, and the Zags never seemed particularly comfortable with it. The controlled tempo seems especially troublesome to Zach Norvell, who was 1 of 11 against Saint Mary’s and 3 of 11 on this day.
-- Two junctures struck me as important, in an understated way. Strange as it sounds, one of them came when GU led 11-8 and had three straight good looks at threes, two by Norvell and the other by Corey Kispert. All three missed. Make a couple of those, and if the leads expands to say, eight, the game that never saw a margin greater than five until the last minutes might develop differently, especially if Tech had to respect perimeter shooters.
-- The other pivot point for me came with GU up 48-44. Brandon Clarke blocked a shot, Rui Hachimura got the ball and charged down the left side of the floor, head down, and took the ball into a thicket of Tech defenders near the rim. He got it stuffed and seven seconds later, Culver splashed a three for the Red Raiders.
-- A few times, Gonzaga was too casual getting around screens to contest three-point shooters. It was costly.
-- No revelation here, but the Zags’ 16 turnovers was far too many in a low-possession game – some unforced, some fumbled-thumbed against Tech’s excellent defense.
-- The Josh Perkins faux pas became almost larger than the outcome itself, partly because Perkins heaped so much blame on himself. Reality is, it should have been a footnote to the day. Still, anybody feel an eerie parallel to the late-game mistake, Wichita State, 2013, when Elias Harris and David Stockton miscommunicated inbounding the ball and turned it over?
-- One more thing on that touched-ball situation: The punishment – two free throws and choice of shooter – hardly meets the crime. Seems like a situation made for a single free throw, and possession.
-- Who knows about impact, but the Zags suffered on a couple of calls aside from the controversial, late Tariq Owens block and save. Killian Tillie’s foul on an offensive rebound was a head-scratcher (looked like Tillie could have contested the board harder, but it hardly looked like a foul), and Brandon Clarke was rightly agitated over a shot bouncing on the rim that appeared to be goal-tended.
-- Ahead might be the biggest transition in personnel in the 21 years of Gonzaga making NCAA tournaments. I’d imagine there will be a lot of hours put into jigsawing a new roster in place, with an eye to graduate transfers in the backcourt. On the other hand, incoming are three of Rivals.com's top 50 bigs nationally.
-- Among the challenges will be the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament, a home date with North Carolina and a roadie with Washington. With the Huskies losing four seniors and likely guard Jaylen Nowell, the look of the Zag-UW game will be dramatically different.
-- For all the overheated criticism of teams that don’t advance, don’t ever forget that the margin is often capriciously and cruelly thin. If Virginia doesn’t come up with a near-miraculous play at the end of regulation against Purdue, in some (lunatic) precincts Tony Bennett will always be a bum whose teams choke before the Final Four.
-- What adds to Mark Few’s melancholy is the fact this looked to be Gonzaga’s best chance to win a national title. And maybe it was. But let’s not be so certain. The bracket tends to have a mind of its own.