USC’s NCAA Tournament implodes at hands of undefeated Gonzaga
The undefeated, top-seeded Bulldogs prove easily too much for the sixth-seeded Trojans in an 85-66 Elite Eight game
Adam Grosbard (OC Register) — INDIANAPOLIS — The cracks showed early, followed by a trickle, then a gush, then the whole dam breaking.
By the time sixth-seeded USC recovered enough to plug some of the holes, there was no catching Gonzaga. And the Trojans’ magical March run came to an end in the Elite Eight with an 85-66 loss to the top-seeded Zags.
The Trojans simply found themselves in front of the unstoppable machine that is the 2020-21 Gonzaga Bulldogs.
USC was the 30th victim of a team that has not lost and has won by single just digits once, and not since December. The Trojans were just the latest to find themselves trailing desperately in a foot race it thought was a basketball game.
The Trojans were playing as good of defense as they had all season entering this game, limiting their first two tournament opponents to 29% shooting before shutting down Oregon in the Sweet 16. But Gonzaga has the best offense in the country, and shot accordingly with a 50% mark.
USC’s defense couldn’t even get into the position with the speed the Zags played the first half, scoring 15 of their 21 fastbreak points before halftime.
The most paint points USC had allowed this season was 36. Gonzaga matched that with 17:41 remaining on a soaring dunk from Joel Ayayi. At that point in the game, the Trojans had amassed only 34 points total.
Gonzaga finished with 46 paint points.
And the Zags’ defense wasn’t too bad, either, holding USC to 38.7% shooting and making it so that the Trojans’ All-American center, Evan Mobley, could do nothing to turn the tide despite 17 points, five rebounds and three assists.
Isaiah Mobley led the Trojans with 19 and seven rebounds and Drew Peterson scored 13.
USC turned the ball over on its first two possessions, with Gonzaga’s 6-foot-10 center Drew Timme stealing the ball from Trojan guard Tahj Eaddy, then intercepting a pass as the Bulldog press panicked the Trojans.
Less than two minutes into the game, USC head coach Andy Enfield needed to call a timeout, his team down 7-0 and his frustrations over Isaiah Mobley’s transition defense on the previous possession boiling over.
There was a second unplanned pause early in the first half as referee Bert Smith collapsed flat on his back in front of the Gonzaga bench. A heavy silence hung over the stadium as medical staff rushed to Smith’s side.
The official eventually stood up on his own power, drawing relieved claps from the crowd as he sat down on the stretcher and was taken into the tunnel. Smith was not taken to the hospital, though, as the NCAA reported he was alert and stable.
Once the game resumed, Timme continued his domination of the action. The second-team All-American spun his way to the basket, finished awkwardly at the rim, and cut when USC overcommitted and left him open.
For every post move, it seemed, he had a different celebration, flexing, shrugging at his own brilliance or running his fingers through his thick mustache. He led all scorers with 23 points on 10-for-19 shooting.
USC found itself down by a season-high 22 points in the second half, but mostly played Gonzaga even after halftime. In the end, the Bulldogs’ utter domination of the first dozen or so minutes of the game was enough to ensure the result.
The dispiriting defeat ended what had been one of the best seasons in the history of USC men’s basketball.
The Trojans (25-8) came within percentage points of a regular-season Pac-12 title. They made the Elite Eight for the fourth time and first since 2001, handing Kansas its worst NCAA Tournament loss along the way.
But sometimes you run into a force that can’t be stopped, and that was Gonzaga on Tuesday night.
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