A 20-minute exhibition of basketball at buzzsaw speed was almost complete Sunday for Gonzaga when point guard Kevin Pangos finally walked the ball up the floor.
It was the last possession of a first half that showcased why sharpshooters might be the most impressive of the Zags’ many weapons, and their fans in KeyArena couldn’t wait 33 seconds for the halftime horn to sound.
So they stood and roared. There still was a full half remaining, but when the first one approaches perfection, the effort deserves an ovation as sincere as it was spontaneous.
“Well, that was a lot of fun. I mean, we played great,” coach Mark Few said after the 87-68 victory advanced the Zags to the NCAA tournament’s Sweet 16. Few was referring to the game in general, but the theme of this game is how his team went cage-match on Iowa before the Big Ten visitors knew what hit them.
“Attack mode,” Few called it. “It’s without a doubt the best offensive team I’ve ever been associated with: the firepower, the versatility, the ability to share the ball.”
Gonzaga built its 46-29 halftime lead by going 7-for-10 from behind the 3-point line, by distributing extra, unselfish passes that turned into seven assists, by muscling the Hawkeyes away from the boards for a 19-12 rebound advantage, and by exerting defense so assertive it forced 10 turnovers.
“They have weapons, any way you look at it,” Iowa coach Fran McCaffery said. “They’ve got shooters, they can throw it inside, they share the ball.
“I thought we worked hard,” McCaffery added, “but we obviously got down into a hole, and you don’t want to do that. They started getting comfortable shooting the ball, and that was unfortunate.”
Iowa didn’t embarrass itself in the first half, but when an opponent is playing with ruthless precision — definition of ruthless precision: when 7-foot-1 center Przemek Karnowski dishes out four assists, or one fewer than Iowa dished out as team — there was little the Hawkeyes could do but wait out the storm.
“It’s crazy. We have had stretches like that,” Few said. “We had SMU in our own building and we were really letting it rip. We had some stretches in the conference tournament — maybe against BYU — where we were really clicking.”
Perhaps, but there’s a difference between facing SMU in November, or BYU in the conference tournament, and facing Iowa with a Sweet 16 berth at stake. Losing to SMU or BYU wouldn’t have bounced Gonzaga from the NCAA tournament.
Had the Zags lost Sunday, it’s a different story only because it’s the same story: another season of high hopes undone by another difficult matchup preventing advancement into the regional semifinal.
“There’s no greater feeling than this, because I haven’t been able to experience it, and most of the guys in the locker room haven’t,” Pangos said. “So for us to get past this is definitely a great feeling.
“But it’s not like we were stressing over what people were talking about. We just wanted to do it selfishly for ourselves and our fan base, because we believed we were good enough.”
As for Gonzaga’s final possession of the first half, the standing ovation produced an anticlimactic sequence that concluded with a missed Pangos jumper off an an inbounds pass.
No matter. By then, the Zags were in all-systems-go control, heading to Houston with every expectation of really letting it rip some more.