ANAHEIM, Calif. — Rui Hachimura paused. Soon, it turned into prolonged silence while reporters awaited an answer. But the 6-foot-8 forward didn't have one, struggling to articulate how No. 3 Texas Tech slowed down No. 1 Gonzaga's top-ranked offense.
The Zags (33-4, 16-0 West Coast Conference) didn’t find an answer either, falling to the Red Raiders (30-6, 14-4 Big 12) 75-69 in Saturday's Elite Eight. After 37 first-half points on 13-of-26 shooting (4 of 11 from 3), GU went just 12 of 33 (36.4 percent) in the second half, despite still managing 32 points.
Texas Tech's aggressive, swarming defense hounded the Bulldogs all evening, forcing 16 turnovers — well above GU's season average of 10.5.
"They are really good at reaching, poking and digging things outta there," GU head coach Mark Few said. "This is the best team I've ever had for taking care of the ball ... So it's real. [Texas Tech's] defense is real. [Texas Tech head coach] Chris [Beard] has done a great job with it and it definitely impacted us tonight. They took a lot of balls from us when we had the ball in a great position."
That brash, in-your-face defense limited the Zags' dribble penetration, forced them into challenging midrange jumpers and contested most of their 3-point attempts, where GU finished just 7 of 26 (26.9 percent) from deep. Despite wielding arguably the best frontcourt tandem in the nation with Hachimura and Brandon Clarke — who scored 18 points (7-of-10 shooting) but added six turnovers — GU tied Texas Tech with 26 points in the paint.
"You gotta be strong with the ball and we weren't really strong with the ball," Killian Tillie said. "That's why they got all those steals."
The two sides traded punches for much of the second half, with GU holding the slimmest of margins until Brandone Francis' driving layup gave Texas Tech the lead at 51-50 with 7:48 to play. The Zags never reclaimed control, as the Red Raiders slowly stretched their lead out, capped by a pair of triples from Davide Moretti just over two minutes apart.
With 1:46 to play and the shot clock winding down, Moretti took a feed from Jarrett Culver and buried a deep 3 on the right wing, pushing his team's lead to 66-60. GU responded with a floater from Clarke while Texas Tech buried three free throws, widening the advantage to 69-62 with only 52 seconds remaining.
"We knew coming into this game that they were a confident bunch," said Zach Norvell Jr., who struggled with 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting and three turnovers. "Everybody has been shooting it with a lot of confidence."
But after Josh Perkins powered into the lane for a bucket, a mad scramble left him with the ball and the real estate to bury a 3-pointer from the right side, cutting the deficit to 69-67 with 22 seconds to play.
"We were in the huddle saying 'believe,' " said Perkins, who posted 16 points and six rebounds in his final GU game. "We never doubted that we would win that game. We thought we would win that game the entire time."
Yet with 10 seconds left and the Bulldogs trailing 71-69, Perkins made contact with Matt Mooney's left wrist before the inbounds pass and was called for a technical foul, awarding Texas Tech two shots and the ball.
"[Mooney] was ball faking a lot and I thought he ball faked in front of me," Perkins said. "[I] instinctively reached in, boneheaded play. Something I will think about forever."
The Zags had chances throughout early portions of the second half to wrestle away momentum but every time, Texas Tech held firm with a defensive stop or bucket of its own.
When Corey Kispert stayed attached to Mooney's drive and blocked his shot to start the second half, Norvell was trapped and air-mailed a pass to Perkins on the next possession. When Hachimura connected on his first two shots of the second half, the latter of which was a smooth turnaround fadeaway over Culver along the baseline, Tariq Owens immediately threw in a dunk to cut the lead to 41-39. When Hachimura curled inside for a layup and Clarke blocked Kyler Edwards inside, Culver rejected Hachimura on the other end.
"I felt like we played with them the entire game. We didn't control like we wanted to sometimes," Moretti said. "... For the most part, we were really locked in on defense and we were moving the ball as we intended to."
Much like he was the first 36 games of the season, Hachimura served as GU's offensive foundation, particularly in the first half. He regularly sealed off smaller players in Moretti or Mooney for inside position, connected on two midrange jumpers and was aggressive driving downhill, opening the game 4 of 7 for 13 points (5 of 6 at the line).
The junior forward struggled the rest of the way, finishing 8 of 19 from the floor and 6 of 10 at the foul line for 22 points. His shots became direct line drives — his final attempt didn't hit rim and his penultimate shot was blocked — and he lacked the vertical pop to finish against Texas Tech's length.
"We lost to a really, really, really good basketball team in a great basketball game. It went back and forth, back and forth," Few said. "... Our guys fought and were right there ... The game just came down to a couple plays down the stretch where they made big plays and we just didn't quite answer.
"It's a tough way to end a spectacular season and year."