It’s not easy to bury a team as good as USC, let alone in a half, no matter how easy Gonzaga made it look. Somehow, coach Mark Few called it in advance.
While everyone was fixating on the top-seeded Bulldogs’ make-it-rain offense, one reporter took the opposite tack. He asked Few the day before their game against the high-flying Trojans whether his defense was getting lost in the shuffle. He replied like he’d been waiting days for that question.
“I think,” Few said, “we’ve had some excellent, I mean, off-the-chart performances, and some terrific halves.”
Gonzaga’s defense dropped one of those like an anvil on No. 6 USC in Tuesday night’s Elite Eight contest. Michigan, the bracket’s other No. 1 seed in action, played decent defense against everyone in a UCLA jersey except No. 3, Johnny Juzang, and man, did he make them pay.
The Zags won’t make that mistake when they face the Bruins in one Final Four matchup come Saturday with the chance to extend their perfect (30-0) season. Baylor, the other top seed still standing and the likeliest giant-killer left, plays No. 2 Houston in the other.
Juzang scored 14 of UCLA’s first 16 points and finished with 28, more than half the total in a 51-49 win, He had five more than the Bruins’ four other starters combined and the bench wasn’t much help either. Five teammates took just three shots in 34 minutes and contributed zero points to the effort. Yet that proved enough after Michigan missed its last eight tries, including four in the final 11 seconds that would have put them ahead.
“There’s one or two possessions that can either help you or hurt you and for us,” as coach Juwaan Howard charitably put it, “we came up short.”
The Zags in full flight are something to behold. They were up 7-0 after just two minutes, 15-4 after five and 49-30 at the half. Barely two minutes past intermission, it was 56-34. The rest of the second half was more a formality than a competitive game. Final score: 85-66.