GONZAGA

Gonzaga plays near-perfect 2nd half to dispatch Kansas 89-68

Mar 23, 2024, 3:12 PM

Gonzaga NCAA Tournament March Madness...

Anton Watson of the Gonzaga Bulldogs celebrates during the second half against the Kansas Jayhawks on March 23, 2024. (Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

(Chris Gardner/Getty Images)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) β€” Gonzaga played a nearly perfect second half, busting open a back-and-forth game with a 15-0 run Saturday to pull away from Kansas for an 89-68 win and extend its nation-best streak of trips to the Sweet 16 to nine.

Gonzaga 89, Kansas 68: Stats

Anton Watson shot 8 for 11 for 21 points on an afternoon when basically everyone in a navy jersey was a star, especially after halftime.

The fifth-seeded Zags (27-7) made their first five 3-pointers of the second half, not missing from long range until 1:30 remained and the game had long entered extended garbage time.

Mark Few’s team will make its regular trip to the second weekend to play the winner of Sunday’s game between Purdue and Utah State.

Nolan Hickman finished with 17 points for the Zags, and big man Graham Ike had 15 points and nine rebounds, going toe to toe with KU’s Hunter Dickinson, who finished with a quiet 15 points. Making all the Bulldogs look good was Ryan Nembhard, who blew off a rough shooting night (1 for 6) and finished with 12 assists.

While Gonzaga was cruising, parts of this looked painfully familiar to fans of the fourth-seeded Jayhawks (23-11), who have struggled with depth, shooting, consistency and injuries β€” leading scorer Kevin McCullar Jr. (knee) was out for the tournament. During Gonzaga’s 15-0 run, the Jayhawks missed 10 straight shots and never got within single digits again.

A few of those misses looked strangely ugly, including when Dickinson grabbed a rebound under the bucket and looked poised for an easy bucket but could barely get the ball to the rim.

For 22 minutes, at least, this game lived up to its billing β€” a rare showdown between much-adored power programs. There were eight lead changes. At one point late in the first half, the teams combined to make nine straight shots from the field, trading leads almost every time down.

It ended abruptly when Ike made a turnaround jumper, then Watson took a dish from Ben Gregg on the next possession for an easy layup. It was the start of a 15-0 run that expanded to 32-4 and pushed the lead as high as 27.

Gonzaga won both its games in Salt Lake City by 21. The opener against McNeese might have been expected. That the second one was such a breeze, even against a flawed KU team, was a surprise.

ON THE SIDELINE

Lamar Simpson, the official who called the phantom foul that helped KU lock up its opening-night win over Samford, watched both games from press row as the alternate official.

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Gonzaga plays near-perfect 2nd half to dispatch Kansas 89-68