West region 4-seed Gonzaga entered Thursday’s game against 13-seed UNCG having won its last nine NCAA tournament openers. Mark Few’s team managed to extend the streak to ten but not without having to sweat it out, as a huge Zach Norvell Jr. three-pointer with 20.3 seconds remaining gave Gonzaga the lead for good.
A Norvell free throw with 7.8 seconds remaining provided the final margin, with the Bulldogs beating the Spartans by a 68-64 final score.
Norvell, the West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year, redshirted last season and as a result did not have the chance to participate in Gonzaga’s run to the national title game. The freshman from Chicago has made up for that this season, making key shots throughout the course of the season for a team that won the WCC regular season and tournament titles.
For that reason, it should come as no surprise that Norvell was willing to take on the responsibility despite having made just two of his 11 shot attempts prior to making the game’s biggest shot.
Norvell finished with 15 points, with Johnathan Williams leading the way for Gonzaga with 19 points and 13 rebounds, and Josh Perkins adding 16 points. Gonzaga shot just 5-for-22 from three and 13-for-22 from the foul line, but its late-game execution ensured that the Bulldogs would live to fight another day.
Francis Alonso and Demetrius Troy led the way for UNCG with 16 points apiece, but Alonso was called for an offensive foul just seconds after Norvell’s key three pointer. Wes Miller’s team fought valiantly throughout, but poor shot selection down the stretch kept UNCG from pulling off the upset.
Next up for Gonzaga will be either Ohio State or South Dakota State, and it goes without saying that the Bulldogs will need to be better offensively if they’re to reach the Sweet 16. However, Gonzaga’s been good on both ends of the floor this season, so it can be argued that Thursday was more about dealing with game pressure.
Gonzaga’s last four wins prior to UNCG were all by 14 points or more, including a 20-point win over BYU in the WCC tournament final. Faced with a situation in which their season could have come to an end, Gonzaga responded with a good effort on the defensive end of the floor and some timely shot-making from two fearless guards in Perkins and Norvell.
Norvell may not have the on-court tournament experience that Perkins has, but he was around for last season’s run. Faced with the opportunity to make his own mark Norvell didn’t back down, and as a result Gonzaga has another game to play.