Eric McClellan had 22 points, Domas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer combined for 36 points and Gonzaga held Utah’s all-american Jakob Poeltl to a five point outing as the No. 11 Zags advanced to the Sweet 16 with an 82-59 win over the No. 3 Utes.
This performance came 48 hours after Gonzaga rolled over No. 6 seed Seton Hall, who was one of the hottest teams in the country when they rolled into Denver. The Pirates were coming off of a title in the Big East tournament and three wins over Xavier and Villanova in the span of eight days.
And here’s the best news of all: Gonzaga will face the winner of Sunday’s battle between No. 10 Syracuse and No. 15 Middle Tennessee State for the right to go to the Elite 8, and regardless of who they end up getting matched up with, the Zags are going to have the two best players on the floor in Wiltjer and Sabonis.
This has been one of Mark Few’s most impressive coaching performances in his 15-year tenure in Spokane.
Think about it.
This program lost two four-year starters in their backcourt, became a team built entirely around their big men and then lost one of their most important bigs to back surgery in December.
They’ve had to answer questions about point guard play, about perimeter shooting, about how they were going to play defense, about how they were going to be able to protect the rim. Where is their front court depth? Who can create a shot for themselves at the end of a clock?
To me, the difference of late has been the play of McClellan and Josh Perkins. McClellan has scored at least 20 points in three of the last five games, giving the Zags a legitimate perimeter scoring threat outside of Wiltjer. Can he keep playing at this level? Perkins averaged 16.5 points in wins over Saint Mary’s and BYU in the WCC tournament and has now scored double-figures in five of the last eight games.
The Zags needed to win the WCC tournament just to get into the NCAA tournament, and here they are, with their best chance to get to the Final Four since … ever?
Because if they can find a way to play 80 more minutes of basketball the way they’ve played the last 80 minutes, they very well could end up finding themselves on a plane to Houston.