On Saturday, No. 1 Gonzaga (26-0, 14-0 WCC) passed its toughest test of the season against conference rival, then-No. 20 St. Mary’s (22-3, 12-2 WCC), defeating the Gaels 74-64. The Bulldogs remain the only undefeated team in Division I basketball and only the seventh team in Division I history to win its first 26 games.
The Bulldogs put on an offensive clinic led by junior Johnathan Williams III and senior Przemek Karnowski, who combined for 36 points and 18 rebounds while shooting 55.3 percent from the field. Head Coach Mark Few’s squad sent a message to the NCAA Tournament selection committee, which earlier that day placed Gonzaga as the fourth-overall seed behind Villanova, Kansas and Baylor.
Gonzaga’s infamous NCAA Tournament past will always bring doubters, as it lost in the round of 32 to Wichita State as a No. 1 seed in 2013 and have never made it to a Final Four, but this year’s group has been firing on all cylinders since the season started. Excluding their most recent matchup, the Bulldogs have led for 90 percent of minutes played this season and won by an average of 23.4 points, staggering figures that shine light on just how talented and deep they are. Gonzaga looks to continue its undefeated season against San Francisco (18-9, 8-6 WCC) and Pacific (9-18, 3-11 WCC) next week.
Lonzo Balls Out
For those who watched the UCLA-Oregon matchup Thursday night, I bet you had a great night. The then-No. 10 Bruins (22-3, 9-3 PAC-12) came storming back from a 19-point deficit to stun the then-No. 5 Ducks (22-4, 11-2 PAC-12) 82-79.
Freshman phenom guard Lonzo Ball spearheaded the comeback with 15 points, 11 rebounds and an absolute dagger of a step-back three-pointer with 34 seconds left. In the last 10 minutes of the game, Ball carried the Bruins with a series of splashing step backs, sharp slashes to the rim, precise assists and outstanding defense on Oregon’s best player, junior forward Dillon Brooks, thereby continuing to bolster his case to be a top-two pick in this June’s NBA draft.
The Bruins performed far better in the second half, as they tightened up their defense and controlled the ball, holding the offensively dangerous Ducks to 33.3 percent shooting and only committing three turnovers. Consistent effort and focus on the defensive end remains an issue for the Bruins, but their ability to play off each other and look downright unstoppable at times keeps them sneaky national-title contenders. Their next two games against Oregon State (4-21, 0-12 PAC-12) and USC (21-5, 8-5 PAC-12) provide UCLA with chances to iron out those kinks.
In a marquee matchup that showcased the best rivalry in college basketball, then-No. 18 Duke (20-5, 8-4 ACC) bested then-No. 8 North Carolina (21-5, 9-3 ACC) 86-78. Junior guard Grayson Allen tied a career high with seven three-pointers while scoring 25 total points, sophomore guard Luke Kennard added 20 points and freshman forward Jayson Tatum carried the Blue Devils home with a 19-point performance in the second half and a career-best five assists.
The Blue Devils have struggled all year to find a consistent identity amid their best player’s tripping penchant, their coach’s slow recovery from back surgery and their prized recruit’s struggle to stay healthy. Now the healthiest they have been all year and motivated to play for each other, a team that seemed in shambles just two weeks ago after an embarrassing home loss to unranked North Carolina State (14-12, 3-10 ACC) looks like the scariest unit in college hoops.
The Blue Devils have won four in a row and sit just one game behind the top spot in the ACC, with games against No. 14 Virginia (18-5, 8-3 ACC) and Wake Forest (15-10, 6-7 ACC) looming as they prepare for March.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.