No. 4 Gonzaga, No. 5 Ohio State set for rematch in NCAA Tournament
BOISE, Idaho – And now, on to the rematch between No. 5 seed Ohio State and No. 4 Gonzaga.
The last time these two teams met, Gonzaga (31-4) disposed of Ohio State by 27 points.
But that was then and this is now as the two teams attempt to get to the Sweet 16 on Saturday at Taco Bell Arena.
“They’re a team that looked like they came together more and they certainly have their belief in (coach) Chris (Holtmann) and the staff and the system and all of that,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “(Ohio State) certainly has grown exponentially.”
The Buckeyes will have had to, given the 86-59 beating they took in the inaugural PK80 back in late November.
“You go back and watch the game and it was a little tighter than that for longer periods than maybe the results indicate,” Few said on Friday in talking to the media about the first meeting.
The Buckeyes vow to play harder, tougher, better.
“We’re a completely different team,” Ohio State guard C.J. Jackson said. “We’re a lot better now. And as they are, they’re a lot better team.”
Back then, Jae’Sean Tate said the Buckeyes were still “trying to find ourselves” in the first meeting. After all, Holtmann was just in his first few months as the head coach and he was still trying to figure out what worked and, well, what didn’t.
Ohio State eventually settled in and finished 15-3 in the Big Ten under its first-year head coach who moved from Butler last year.
“Now that we have our culture and we know what winning looks like and what … things we need to do to win,” Tate said. “I think this is going to be completely different matchup than it was earlier in the season.”
At the time of the loss to Gonzaga, Holtmann said “more than anything I want to see how we respond to moments like this.”
Ohio State proceeded to lose two of its next three games, but then found a groove to eventually finish in a tie for second place in the Big Ten.
“Fortunately,” Holtmann said, “we hit our stride at the right time with this group.”
Now, the Buckeyes must do what they couldn’t do in November — beat Gonzaga.
“Listen, game one was not much of a game,” Holtmann said on Friday. “They absolutely took us to the woodshed. It was a mismatch in every way. And I’m hopeful that we can do a better job of getting our guys ready for that.
“But I don’t know that they’ve made dramatic changes, they’ve just gotten better and better, as you would expect one of Mark’s team to be. I think they’re an elite team right now.”
It’s an elite team that is hoping to return to the Sweet 16, the Final Four and NCAA championship game, where it finished last year in a loss to North Carolina. But with a bunch of new faces and some in different roles, the Bulldogs also had to adjust.
“It’s going to be a fight, for sure,” said Gonzaga guard Josh Perkins. “Just try to execute our coach’s game plan and we should be in good hands.”
Perkins added the Bulldogs’ young team has gained experience with “the young guys are getting better and better every day. Corey (Kispert) has improved, roles have changed. Guys are more comfortable in the spots they’ve been in before.”
Few said he expects the game to be physical.
“They’ve got great size and great physicality, and tough guys,” Few said. “And they’ve really shot — some of them shot the ball well (on Thursday).”
Few singled out Keita Bates-Diop, who had 24 points and 12 rebounds in Ohio State’s win over South Dakota State on Thursday.
“We prepared for him heavily last time, as well we should have. He’s a fabulous player,” said Few. “Tate is a unique player to prepare for. He’s just a load and tough and physical and aggressive. And I really think those guards have stepped up their game. I think they’ve come into their own and are playing with a lot of confidence, which I think that’s probably the biggest difference from November to now.”