Balanced scoring has been a key for No. 2 Gonzaga throughout the season, so it’s no surprise that Mark Few’s team put together that kind of effort in their 87-68 win over No. 7 Iowa to advance to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2009. The Bulldogs shot 61.5 percent from the field and 10-for-16 from beyond the arc, with junior forward Kyle Wiltjer leading the way with 24 points on 10-for-12 shooting to go along with seven rebounds.
After having issues offensively at times last season, Gonzaga’s been one of the best offensive teams in the country this season with Wiltjer’s addition being one of the key reasons why. His ability to hit shots from just about anywhere on the court gives Gonzaga a level of offensive spacing that they didn’t enjoy last year. Add in their ball and player movement, and the Bulldogs are an incredibly difficult team to slow down.
Wiltjer scored 13 of his points in the first half, and with Gary Bell Jr. and Domantas Sabonis adding eight apiece Gonzaga was able to build a 17-point halftime lead. Thirteen of Gonzaga’s 18 made field goals in the first half were assisted, and four players finished the game with at least three assists. Joining Wiltjer in double figures were Bell Jr. (ten points, four assists), Kevin Pangos (16 points, three assists) and Domantas Sabonis (18 points, nine rebounds).
Iowa managed to cut the halftime deficit to 11 with 10:50 remaning thanks in large part to the tandem of Jarrod Uthoff (20 points, eight rebounds) and Aaron White (19 points). However a 9-0 Gonzaga run combined with a stretch of nearly six minutes without a basket for the Hawkeyes removed any lingering doubt.
Next up for Gonzaga is No. 11 UCLA Friday night in Houston, and the two met earlier this season with the Bulldogs winning in Los Angeles. These teams are different than they were at that time, especially with UCLA playing with more confidence now than they did in December.
As for Gonzaga, they’ve managed to rebound from their second loss of the season with five straight wins by nine points or more. And Sunday’s win gets the program back into the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time in six years.
Even though Gonzaga’s been the lower seed in four of their last five NCAA tournament defeats, with the lone exception being their loss to Wichita State in 2013, detractors have been quick to point out the program’s lack of success in March. Sunday’s win may (or may not) quiet some of that chatter, but given their talent and depth this current group is capable of a lot more than just two wins.