Elite Eight: Deep as well as talented, top seed Gonzaga faces USC next
Most college basketball fans are probably familiar by now with Gonzaga’s big three of Corey Kispert, Jalen Suggs and Drew Timme.
They were the first trio from the same team to be among 10 players chosen for the Wooden All-American team. Kispert was named a finalist for the Wooden Award, which goes to the national player of the year.
The three have led the top-seeded Bulldogs to the Elite Eight, and an accompanying meeting Tuesday with sixth-seeded Southern California.
But what about the Bulldogs’ other starters?
Well, Andrew Nembhard and Joel Ayayi showed in Sunday’s 83-65 victory against Creighton in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region semifinal that they deserve the defense’s attention as well.
Nembhard and Ayayi combined for 30 points, 12 rebounds and nine assists as Gonzaga (29-0), the top overall seed, moved within a game of their second Final Four berth.
“We play our best when we’re just moving the ball, because we have so many pieces and so much versatility,” said Nembhard, a transfer from Florida who has played with the Canadian national team. “It’s just like playing in a park with a bunch of guys that click so well.”
Nembhard’s 17 points Sunday were two shy of his season-high set Dec. 2 in an 87-82 victory against West Virginia, the Bulldogs’ lone game to be decided by fewer than 10 points this season.
Gonzaga is chasing history as well as its first NCAA title. The Bulldogs could become the first undefeated champion since Indiana in 1975-76.
“I’m just telling you: We’re not hung up on the undefeated thing at all,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We’ve got to go undefeated from here on out. We’ve got to go 3-0 if we want to win the championship, which, that’s been our goal all along. But nobody’s talking about the overall undefeated thing at all.”
Gonzaga’s victory in Sunday’s early game assured the West Region final would be an all-West Coast affair.
While the Bulldogs will be making their fourth Elite Eight appearance in the past six tournaments, the Trojans earned their first trip in 20 years and just their second in six decades with their victory in the late game, 82-68 over Pac-12 rival Oregon 82-68 Sunday night.
Isaiah White led the Trojans (25-7) with 22 points, and their zone defense shut down Oregon’s potent attack.
“We’re making history, and it just means a lot to this program,” White said. “As a team, we’re just super excited and we worked for this, so I’m glad that it’s paying off.”
As for USC’s chances against Gonzaga?
“We believe we can beat anybody,” White said.
USC’s 7-foot freshman Evan Mobley, considered a potential top-three pick in the next NBA draft, had just 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting against the Ducks, but added eight rebounds, six assists and two blocked shots.
“He takes what the defense gives. He has confidence in his teammates,” USC coach Andy Enfield said. “When your most talented offensive player is your most unselfish and most willing passer, you can win a lot of games like that.”
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