ANAHEIM, Calif. — Before anyone could pepper Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard and his players with questions on Friday afternoon, Beard talked about respect. Respect for Gonzaga's program. Respect for its consistency. Respect for its excellence.
Beard's third-seeded Red Raiders (29-6, 14-4 Big 12) will face the top-seeded Bulldogs (33-3, 16-0 West Coast Conference) at 3:09 p.m. on Saturday with a Final Four berth on the line. At that point, respect won't likely be the word used to describe Beard's mentality.
GU boasts the nation's top-ranked offense (according to KenPom); Texas Tech counters with the best defense. Saturday's Elite Eight matchup appears to be a war of attrition.
"Two things: One, the talent, you know, [it has] several NBA players, obviously. They're really good," Beard said of what makes GU's offense tough to stop. "For us, that's what it's like every night in the Big 12. You're playing against NBA players, not a lot of one-dimensional guys either, guys that can do different things. And two: great coaching.
"There's a lot of really good coaches around the country that are also watching the games on TV, but when you combine the two like Gonzaga does, a Big 12-caliber coach and great players, NBA talent, then you're one of the last teams standing."
The Red Raiders are led by 2018-19 Big 12 Player of the Year Jarrett Culver. Now a sophomore, Culver started 20 games for last season's Elite Eight squad, averaging 11.2 points and 4.8 rebounds. This year, after Texas Tech lost four starters, Culver emerged as the team's go-to guy while averaging 18.9 points, 6.4 rebounds and 3.8 assists on 48.4 percent shooting.
"He's a weapon. When he crosses halfcourt, understanding he can handle it, shoot it, make plays for others," Zach Norvell Jr. said. "The biggest thing is to try to change it up, different defensive schemes, try to challenge him, challenge his shots and make things tough for him."
Guards Davide Moretti (11.6 points per game, 46.2 percent from 3) and Matt Mooney (10.9 points, 38.5 percent) supplement Culver's all-around presence with double-digit scoring.
But Texas Tech's 31st-ranked offense is second on a twofold totem pole of worries for GU, particularly considering the Zags' defensive growth since mid-December. Rather, it's that top-ranked defense, which held Michigan to 44 points on 32.7 percent shooting (1 of 19 from 3-point range) and forced 14 turnovers in Thursday's 63-44 win, that threatens to contain the Bulldogs' top-ranked offense.
"This is not going to be a high-scoring game tomorrow," GU head coach Mark Few said. "Texas Tech's [defense] is just tough as nails, don't make a mistake, don't miss an assignment, gap oriented, with all their help built in and a real conviction to guard you as a team, and it's tough. They don't give you any easy shots and like I said earlier, they're very handsy and they attempt to take a lot of charges, too."
Culver is a rangy, 6-foot-6 wing capable of defending multiple positions. Mooney is the quintessential ancillary floor general, grinding out possessions defensively. Norense Odiase and springy, 6-foot-10 big man Tariq Owens roam the paint, averaging a combined 3.4 blocks per game.
"Just gotta take care of the ball, get shots on your terms and not fall in the trap areas they want you to," Josh Perkins said. "Hopefully, we do that tomorrow."
Perkins said Thursday's grimy, slow-it-down battle with Florida State gives GU confidence it can lean on its defense to win games and "out-ugly" Texas Tech. Even if the Red Raiders make the Zags uncomfortable offensively, they believe their defense has the potential to power them to the Final Four.
"It's going to be a really tough game. We knew when the bracket popped up two weeks ago Sunday, that this was just going to be one of those brackets where you're going to have to fight like crazy," Few said. "It's not going to be pretty, but we've got to enjoy the fight and embrace it ... I think the guys are ready and excited."