DENVER (AP) — Sure, there were doubts that Gonzaga would make it back to the NCAA Tournament this year.
Now that the Zags are here, they’re making plans to stay a while.
The Bulldogs pulled away from Seton Hall for a 68-52 victory Thursday night behind a 21-point, 16-rebound effort from Domantas Sabonis and a shutdown defensive effort on Seton Hall’s Isaiah Whitehead.
In the bracket, this one goes down as an upset. Gonzaga (27-7) was an 11 seed, while Seton Hall (25-9) was a 6. Vegas knew better; the Zags opened the week as a 1-point favorite.
“We heard all week how tough Seton Hall was and they were really, really tough,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “But so are we.”
Tough or not, Gonzaga was no sure thing to make this, its 18th straight tournament, until it won the West Coast Conference tournament last week.
Turns out, all that did was build steam, and some confidence, and suddenly, this looks like the sort of Gonzaga team hoops fans have come to know during March.
The team’s leading scorer, Kyle Wiltjer, had an off shooting night – 5 for 14 – and finished with 13 points.
But the Bulldogs are more than one player.
Their guards, maligned for a large part of this season, put the hammer down on Whitehead, who had scored 130 points over his last five games – 70 of those in the three wins that gave Seton Hall its first Big East tournament title since 1993.
Whitehead’s numbers on this night: 10 points on 4-for-24 shooting, including 0 for 10 from 3-point range.
The Gonzaga win wrapped up a day in which seven of 16 higher-seeded teams won, including two 11s and two 12s.
Gonzaga: In addition to the work he did on Whitehead, Josh Perkins finished with seven points, seven assists and three steals. … Sabonis also had four assists and a steal.
Seton Hall: Derrick Gordon became the first player to play in the tournament for three different programs. Western Kentucky and UMass were the others. Gordon finished with 10 points.
Gonzaga meets third-seeded Utah on Saturday with a trip to the Sweet 16 at stake.