Who said no one cared about college basketball in November?
Jalen Hudson scored 35 points and Chris Chiozza added 26 points, 10 assists and eight boards as No. 7 Florida outlasted No. 17 Gonzaga, 111-105, to take home a double-overtime win in the semifinals of the PK80 Motion bracket.
The Gators will advance to face No. 1 Duke in the finals on Sunday.
But before we get into Sunday’s action, we need to wrap up what could end up being the best game that we see in college basketball this season.
I honestly don’t know where to start, because this thing was back and forth for the entirety of the 50 minutes. Gonzaga jumped out to a 36-29 lead at the break, but the Gators caught fire in the second half, as Hudson, Chiozza and KeVaughn Allen hit a series of ridiculous threes in the second half and overtime.
But seemingly every one of those threes was answered by Gonzaga. It started with Johnathan Williams III, who looked like an all-american. He finished with 39 points, 12 boards and three assists, scoring every time he touched the ball in the second half. Josh Perkins added 17 points, seven boards and seven assists before fouling out, while Killian Tillie had 17 points of his own.
The game was won early in the second overtime, when Florida used a 9-2 run — a three from Hudson, a three from Chiozza, another three from Hudson — to break a deadlock and open a lead Gonzaga would not be able to fight back from.
It was unbelievably entertaining to watch on TV, and even better live, where the arena was packed with Gonzaga fans.
Here are the three things we can take away from that game:
1. I severely underestimated Florida coming into the season: My thought process was correct. Losing Kasey Hill, Devin Robinson and Justin Leon hurt this group defensively, and for a team that was built around their defense a year ago, that would be tough to recover from.
What I didn’t realize, however, was that Egor Koulechov and Jalen Hudson were going to take turns mimicking Klay Thompson’s stat lines while Chiozza finished his development into the best point guard in the SEC. Mike White has embraced a gun-slinger’s style of play. Florida gets out and runs, they push the ball in transition, they fire up threes and they have no conscience when it comes to bad shots.
Because White knows that he has guys on his roster that can make those shots, even when they’re bad shots. And while there will be nights where Koulechov goes 1-for-9 from the floor and Allen shoots 5-for-16 — as they did on Friday — they can be picked up by the other two players on that perimeter. White has veterans up and down his lineup. He may have the toughest point guard in the country in Chiozza. And his team still isn’t whole, as they’re waiting for John Egbunu to return from his torn ACL.
Veteran guards that can go for 30 on a given night combined with big, physical posts and a team that puts up triple-digits on the regular is the kind of team that can get to a Final Four.
I thought they were overrated as a top ten team entering the season. They may actually be underrated at No. 7.
2. The same thing can be said for Gonzaga: Did see this coming from Johnathan Williams III?
I can honestly say that I expected him to contend for the WCC Player of the Year award. We had him ranked as a top 100 player entering the year and I figured that he would end up being the leading scorer for this Gonzaga team.
But what we saw on Friday night?
An unstoppable force in the paint and around the rim?
A guy that can go for 39 points on 16-for-22 shooting?
That I did not see coming, and I can’t say that I expected Josh Perkins to be as good as he has been in Portland, either. If that duo can play anywhere near the level that they’ve played this week for the rest of the season, Gonzaga will have one of the best 1-2 punches on the west coast. Throw in a veteran roll players (Silas Melson), a couple of intriguing foreigners (Tillie, Rui Hachimura) and a freshmen class with some promising kids (Corey Kispert, Zach Norvell) and … well you pretty much have the kind of Gonzaga team that we’ve become accustomed to seeing.
They’re the favorite in the WCC once again.
How silly of us to think otherwise.
3. Mike White is a helluva coach: We knew this already, didn’t we?
That’s why he got the job that was vacated by Billy Donovan?
But what really impresses me with this group is just how different they are from last year’s team. As I said earlier, last year’s group was No. 2 nationally in defensive efficiency, according to KenPom, but they could struggle to run offense and score the ball at times. This team? Well, they’ve failed to crack 100 points just once this season, are must-see TV every time they play and run their offensive differently than they did last year. White is playing to the strength of his roster, and it’s paying dividends.
4. Gonzaga fans are criminally underrated: At a Final Four last year that included North Carolina and Oregon, Gonzaga was the most impressive fan base. They traveled to Arizona en masse, partied all weekend and showed up — sunburnt, but there — in incredibly loud fashion during the games.
The same can be said for the PK80 tournament. And every home game the Zags play. They’re loud, they know their stuff and they’re annoying on twitter.
That’s the fan base trifecta.
And they should get credit for it.