March is no time to worry about winning style points. Head coach Mark Few's top ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs protected its top seed in the West Regional Thursday with a lackluster 64-58 victory over unheralded Southern University.
A win is a win in the NCAA Tournament, however, so the ‘Zags don’t have to explain how a 23-10 Southern team took them all the way to the final buzzer. Gonzaga just takes its 32-2 record into Saturday’s third round game against ninth-seeded Wichita State. The Shockers surprised eighth-seed Pittsburgh, 73-55, before Gonzaga’s victory.
The ‘Zags had leads of seven and nine points for most of the second half, before Derick Beltran’s jump shot capped a 13-2 run for Southern and tied the game 56-56 with 3 minutes, 47 seconds left in regulation.
Not a single No. 1 seed has lost in the tournament since the field was expanded to 64 teams in 1985. Southern seemed poised to change that, even when Gary Bell Jr. hit a 3-pointer to give Gonzaga a 59-56 lead just 25 seconds after Beltran’s jumper tied the game. Beltran made two free throws to cut the gap to 59-58, but Kevin Pangos drained a 3-pointer and, with just 14 seconds left, hit two free throws to account for the final margin. No. 1 seeds are 113-0 in the tourney since 1985.
All-America forward Kelly Olynk led Gonzaga with 21 points and 10 rebounds. Pangos scored 16 to go with five assists. Bell scored 11. Beltran’s 21 paced Southern.
It was actually a brief spurt in the first half that gave the ‘Zags the cushion they needed at the end.
Southern led 19-18 when Olynk grabbed a rebound and passed ahead to David Stockton. Stockton found Bell streaking to the hoop for a layup. Przemek Karnowski’s steal led to a Stockton free throw that gave the ‘Zags a 23-19 lead. Olynk scored from in close to make it 25-19 before Pangos hit a 3-pointer to up Gonzaga’s lead to 28-21 with 6:11 to go in the first half.
Southern’s transition defense broke down in those key moments, leading to what were easy Gonzaga hoops.
Southern shot just 39.1 percent from the field, hitting just 18 of 46 shots. Gonzaga wasn’t much better at 41.8 percent, but dominated the boards. The ‘Zags outrebounded their Southwestern Athletic Conference foe 36-20.