SEATTLE SPORTS PIT

Battle of strengths as Gonzaga, Texas Tech meet in Elite 8

Mar 29, 2019, 12:45 PM
Gonzaga averages 88.2 points per game and shoots 52.8 percent from the field. (AP)...
Gonzaga averages 88.2 points per game and shoots 52.8 percent from the field. (AP)
(AP)

Gonzaga has the nation’s most efficient offense. Texas Tech has the top-rated defense.

Strengths will collide in the West Region final on Saturday as the top-seeded Bulldogs tangle with the third-seeded Red Raiders in Anaheim, Calif.

Rui Hachimura leads Gonzaga past Florida State, to Elite 8

“We show our team clips of winning basketball. We show a lot of Gonzaga clips their passion, their togetherness, their courage, how aggressive they are,” said Texas Tech coach Chris Beard.

“I can say this early on: No one has more respect for Gonzaga than I do personally and our program.”

Gonzaga averages 88.2 points per game, shoots 52.8 percent from the field and, according to coach Mark Few, is better in transition than any team he’s even had. That’s saying something: This is the third squad he has taken to the Elite Eight in the past five seasons; his 2017 team played for the national title.

The Bulldogs (33-3) were battle-tested this season by playing Duke, North Carolina and Tennessee in the nonconference.

“We saw early on, Tennessee and North Carolina were physical and athletic in both the offensive and defensive end, and I think it prepared us a lot,” said guard Zach Norvell Jr. “And also us taking those losses, we understood what it took to come out with a game like that you want to bring the fight to them and be more physical for 40 minutes.”

But the Bulldogs haven’t seen anything like Texas Tech’s defense, which is coming off a historic performance in the Sweet 16.

The Red Raiders (29-6) held Michigan to 44 points the lowest ever for a No. 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament and limited the Wolverines to 32.7 percent shooting, including 5.3 percent from beyond the arc (1 of 19).

Michigan coach John Beilein said Texas Tech was better in person than on game tape.

“Without question,” he said.

“And that was the scouting reports we heard from the different people that played them during this year, that you’re going to be amazed at how quick they are, how good they are at staying in front of people and how they rally to the ball, which usually gives us open threes and you still can’t get open threes.”

The Michigan game was really just more of the same from Texas Tech, rated No. 1 defensively in the metrics on KenPom.com, which ranks Gonzaga as having the top offense.

But that’s merely focusing on half of the matchup.

Gonzaga’s defense can be pretty salty, too. The Bulldogs forced 14 turnovers, blocked six shots and held Florida State to 39.3 percent shooting in a 72-58 victory in the Sweet 16. A big front line of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke and Killian Tillie will be a challenge for Texas Tech on both ends of the court.

Hachimura averages 19.6 points. Clarke, a transfer from San Jose State, averages 16.9 points and 8.5 rebounds. He has blocked 13 shots in three NCAA Tournament games.

“Games like these are why I came here,” he said. “It’s really, really fun to me and I want to soak up every moment of it.”

Norvell contributes 15.1 points per game, and senior point guard Josh Perkins dishes 6.3 assists per game.

Texas Tech has ample offense, led by sophomore wing Jarrett Culver, a potential NBA draft lottery pick who averages 18.9 points and is hard to handle one-on-one off the dribble. When guards Davide Moretti and Matt Mooney are hitting 3-pointers, the Red Raiders have the kind of balance that is tough to beat.

Texas Tech is making a repeat trip to the regional final after playing in its first Elite Eight last season, when the Red Raiders lost to eventual champ Villanova.

“Just enjoy the ride, not just the destination,” Beard said of his message this time around. “The best thing about it is I get to coach these guys another day. I just love coaching this team.”

– Field Level Media

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Battle of strengths as Gonzaga, Texas Tech meet in Elite 8