INDIANAPOLIS — The nice and cozy, fuzzy story line of this N.C.A.A. males’s basketball event is Gonzaga’s pursuit of an undefeated season. The Zags, tucked away on the dry, desolate facet of the Cascade Vary, have lengthy since grown out of their glass slippers — they journey by constitution, produce a pipeline of N.B.A. expertise and have gained extra N.C.A.A. event video games than anybody within the nation since 2015.
Nonetheless, the highlight doesn’t at all times discover its option to the boys from Spokane.
Even on the cusp of a landmark run, the Zags discovered themselves on the undercard Tuesday evening, relegated to the opening act for a pair of blue bloods, U.C.L.A. and Michigan.
Irrespective of, Gonzaga shortly carved up what had been a flaming-hot Southern California group, 85-66, to win the West regional remaining at Lucas Oil Stadium. The Zags (30-0) will advance to play both Michigan, the No. 1 seed within the East area, or 11th-seeded U.C.L.A., which is making an attempt to turn out to be the second group to achieve the Ultimate 4 whereas popping out of the First 4 as one of many final at-large picks within the 68-team subject.
For all of Gonzaga’s success because it burst onto the school basketball scene with a run to the spherical of Eight in 1999, that is simply the second time it has reached the Ultimate 4. The Zags misplaced within the title recreation to North Carolina in 2017. They had been agonizingly shut in 2015 and 2019, shedding in a regional remaining. And one other alternative was misplaced to the pandemic final season, which the Zags concluded with a 31-2 document and a No. 2 rating within the remaining Related Press High 25 ballot.
A lot as Gonzaga Coach Mark Few has tried to maintain his gamers on assignments and obligations that include every recreation plan — one thing they’ve largely adhered to — freshman Jalen Suggs admitted that with two video games left, his group has eyes on the potential for an undefeated season, which has not been achieved since Indiana in 1976.
“It’s onerous not to consider it,” Suggs mentioned. “We attempt to hold our minds off of it and hold targeted on the duty at hand.”
On this evening, although, all of it got here so simply — simply because it has all through the event.
Gonzaga, which has had one recreation nearer than double digits all season, has cruised previous Norfolk State, Oklahoma, Creighton and U.S.C. with no recreation nearer than 16 factors.
The Zags had been so unencumbered on Tuesday that Drew Timme, the mustachioed, headband-wearing sophomore middle from Dallas, appeared to undergo his complete catalog of flexes after scoring — exhibiting off a bicep, twirling his finger or shaking his head after tossing in a bounce hook over Evan Mobley, suggesting that the Trojans’ lithe 7-foot freshman couldn’t guard him.
For one evening, he was not incorrect. Mobley is more likely to be one of many first gamers picked within the 2021 N.B.A. draft however he had little success making an attempt to thwart Timme, who performs with persistence and a surfeit of put up strikes.
Timme set the tone for the thumping simply moments into the sport, when he stripped U.S.C. level guard Tahj Eaddy of the ball at one finish and drew a foul from Mobley on the different after pump faking him into the air. He scored 13 of Gonzaga’s first 23 factors. In all, Timme completed with 23 factors, 5 rebounds, Four assists and three steals.
“It set the tone that, hey, we’re going to be aggressive,” Few mentioned of Timme’s steal. “This factor’s going to start out with protection.”
The one second the Zags’ momentum was slowed was a sobering one. Referee Bert Smith collapsed in entrance of the Gonzaga bench after he had run down the court docket. He pivoted within the nook after which keeled over, his head hitting the ground with a thud.
Paramedics rushed to take care of Smith, who remained respiration whereas mendacity on his again. As Few huddled his gamers to the facet of the court docket, guard Joel Ayayi and assistant coach Tommy Lloyd peeked over to verify on Smith, who was ultimately carried off on a stretcher. He was alert and secure and was not taken to a hospital, an N.C.A.A. spokesman mentioned. He was changed by an alternate referee.
When play resumed — with the rating 11-Four in favor of Gonzaga — so did the beat down.
The sport had appeared to vow some intrigue: pitting probably the most proficient scoring group contained in the 3-point arc in opposition to the group most adept at defending inside it.
U.S.C. is likely one of the tallest groups within the nation with the Mobley brothers, Evan and Isaiah, standing 7-foot and 6-foot-10 being flanked by 6-foot-Eight Drew Peterson and 6-foot-7 Isaiah White. The Trojans’ zone protection all however types a picket fence across the basket. However for all their top, the Trojans don’t deal with the basketball notably properly and Gonzaga repeatedly doubled Evan Mobley and stripped different Trojans of the ball.
These steals, six within the first half, despatched the Zags off and working, leaving U.S.C. Coach Andy Enfield fuming at his gamers after which the referees, questioning what grew to become of the group that had routed Drake, Kansas and Oregon on its option to a regional remaining for the primary time in 20 years. Gonzaga led 49-30 at halftime.
The second half was spent largely working out the clock, which expired simply as followers on the West Coast had been sitting all the way down to eat dinner.
The schedule is made largely by the networks that broadcast the video games, CBS and TBS. Tuesday’s video games had been broadcast on the cable community. TBS spokesman Jay Moskowitz declined to elucidate why the Zags had been put within the early recreation, which started when a lot of the nation — together with the complete West Coast — was nonetheless at work.
Each video games featured a group from the Los Angeles market, however the networks typically choose to place U.C.L.A. in prime slots — as they’ve in all 5 video games the Bruins have performed. And with a No. 1 seed like Michigan, which has a nationwide following, it might have been a predictable resolution.
Not that it bothered Few. He mentioned, merely and seemingly with out irony, that Gonzaga followers had their priorities so as.
“Belief me, our followers, they’re not at work,” he mentioned. “Should you suppose they’re at work, you don’t know the Zag followers. All the pieces’s shut down, and all people was watching.”