SALT LAKE CITY — Josh Perkins' 3-point shot attempt bounced off the right side of the rim. Corey Kispert scooped up the ball and passed it back out to the perimeter to Geno Crandall. At the same time, Brandon Clarke cut to the basket. Seeing his teammate open, Crandall threw up what he saw as the perfect alley-oop pass. Instead, the ball swished through the hoop.
Clarke’s face lit up. Rui Hachimura put his hands on his head. The entire Gonzaga bench jumped up and down. The play perfectly encapsulated the Zags performance during their 83-71 win over Baylor in the Round of 32. Everything was clicking perfectly.
Now, the Zags will head to the Sweet 16 for the fifth season in a row.
“It’s awesome to make our fifth straight Sweet 16. We do not take that for granted at all,” head coach Mark Few said. “This is an amazing accomplishment that the players in this program have been able to execute and come through in the most pressure moments. And so very happy to be moving on and couldn’t be happier for [these] guys.”
Gonzaga has built its brand of basketball around extending the floor and running the ball. That was the type of play that allowed for the Zags to go on a 19-0 run and jump to as large as a 19 point lead over the Bears in the first half.
The Zags scored 16 fast-break point s to Baylor’s eight.
GU ended the night shooting 54.4 percent from the field and 35 percent from beyond the arc.
Clarke led all scorers and tied his career-high 36 points, to go along with eight boards.
But, as what has become custom for GU, it wasn’t just the offense that powered the team. Their defense was just as important and game-changing. To go along with his stellar offensive performance, Clarke put up five blocks and two steals.
Corey Kispert chipped in 16 points and seven assists.
“Corey Kispert was our player of the game, which is, the things we asked him to do, rebounding-wise in defense and then to step up to make those big shots was huge,” Few said.
The Zags held Baylor to just 29.6 percent on 8-of-27 shooting in the first period. On the game, Gonzaga kept the Bears to just four 3-pointers, a complete 180 degree change from the 16 they hit against Syracuse.
“That was a big part of it — the 3-point line and the offensive rebounding,” Perkins said. “I think in the first half we did a good job, I think they only made one 3. They hit a couple at the first media time out so we had to cut that off and weather the storm that came with. But as a result we came out on top."
Baylor came out at the start of the second period with a point to prove. With a switch to man-to-man defense, in comparison to Baylor's famous 1-3-1 zone, the Bears opened the period on a 10-0 run, cutting the Zags’ lead to six and getting a much needed momentum change.
Mark Vital picked up his third in fourth foul in a span of 16 seconds, moving Baylor’s second leading scorer to the bench and an opportunity for the Zags to regroup.
They did. Halfway through the second half, Gonzaga had reclaimed a 13-point lead. Just before the 10-minute mark, Perkins hit his first 3 of the night, which was then followed by a Kispert fast-break layup. As Baylor called a timeout, GU assistant coach Tommy Lloyd waved his hands, signaling the fans to get on their feet. Brian Michaelson, another assistant coach, held his players back from celebrating too hard, scared they would get hit with a technical. But it didn’t matter, the Zags had gotten their step back.
“In the timeout we just said do what we did in the first half, get back to what we were doing: cut off the 3-point line and take that rebound and I think we did that,” Perkins said.
Next, the Zags will face fourth-seeded Florida State in Anaheim. This will be a rematch of last season’s Sweet 16, in which the Seminoles walked away victorious.
Kendra Andrews is the Editor-in-Chief. Follow her on Twitter: @kendra__andrews.