The Gonzaga Bulldogs narrowly escaped living in infamy as the first one seed to lose to a 16 seed in the history of the NCAA tournament. They didn’t, beating the Southern Jaguars 64-58 in a game that was close the entire way. The Bulldogs’ victory was accomplished primarily thanks to their star player, Kelly Olynyk.
Like the entire Bulldogs team, Olynyk started out slow before picking things up in the second half. What wasn’t a good sign for the Bulldogs moving forward is that it appeared that Olynyk picked up his game far more than the rest of the team.
Olynyk scored 21 points in the game with 17 coming in the second half. It was Olynyk, with repeated drives to the hoop, that put the team on his back and carried them until he was in danger of fouling out of the game late. By that point the game had been tied and the Jaguars still had some momentum from keeping the game within reach all the way.
Instead of going for several short-range jump shots and three-point opportunities, Olynyk passed on them in favor of powering his way to the basket and scoring with a layup. He did this, I’m guessing, because he and the Bulldogs were not shooting that well from anywhere on the court for the majority of the game and he was aware of that. Also, in a close game like this one, it’s just better for the heavily favored team to maintain confidence and composure. Missing shots and losing momentum is no way to do that, so Olynyk made sure not to do that almost every time he touched the ball in the second half.
To their credit, the Jaguars played possibly the best game a 16 seed has ever played against a one seed. From the opening tip-off, the Jaguars stuck close and never let up. Most times in games that feature a big underdog actually keeping up with the favorite, the underdog eventually loses steam or runs out of gas and fades away down the stretch. That didn’t happen here as the Jaguars had the game tied at 56 with 3:47 to go. It appeared as though a monumental upset was in reach.
And it was in reach. The Bulldogs had to toughen up in those final four minutes while outscoring the Jaguars 8-2 and benefiting from some missed three-pointers from the Jaguars down the stretch.
If this is the kind of team that the Bulldogs have brought to the tournament, they won’t get out of this weekend. The Wichita State Shockers played great from beginning to end today in their 18-point win over the Pittsburgh Panthers. These two play on Saturday, and it’s clear as day which of the two looks better heading into that game. I’ll give you a hint: it won’t be a shocker if this team advances to the Sweet 16.