While heads fall in the other boards, in the West only the highest seeds pass. TCU shows all the experience accumulated in these months of Big 12 and comeback against Arizona State. UConn and Gonzaga go through with the same score, while Saint Mary’s defense is solid enough to go further. Here’s what happened during the night.
#6 TCU 72
#10 ARIZONA STATE 70
Mike Miles holds up, the others win the game. TCU had to sweat this first round against an Arizona State already tested by victory at the First Four and which, after a dull start, got into rhythm thanks to an aggressive game plan. Coach Bobby Hurley’s plan was clear: take the ball out of Miles’ hands and challenge the others. Eventually the plan backfired on his last possession of the match where JaKobe Coles he used the freedom left to him to take the Horned Frogs to the second round.
Arizona State’s defensive aggression had also paid off in touching the +11 lead in the second half with a couple of explosions on the break. It looked like the middle of the night for TCU as Miles appeared to be out of the game due to a flare up of the knee problem that has kept him out often this year. Held back by injuries and defense, the TCU junior was incredible in line play (12 of 26 final points come from the line) and ball handling (only 5 turnovers). Damian Baugh put in a very delicate triple at the end of the thirty seconds with five minutes to go which gave rise to the final comeback.
#4 UCONN 87
#13 IONA 63
Rick Pitino told Dan Hurley in the locker room after the race: “ Rick Pitino to Dan Hurley in the hallway after the game: “Win it all. Take it home. You’ve got the team to do it.”
“. And if someone who has more than fifty victories in his career in March tells you, perhaps you have to believe it. UConn deploy all its strength and dominated the second half peremptorily, sending a signal to everyone. The bombs of Alex Karaban and Joey “California” Calcaterra compensated for Iona’s perfect first half on Jordan Hawkins, limited in his incessant activity away from the ball, in the post on Sanogo but also in attack where they seemed to never make mistakes in attack.
Rick Pitino to Dan Hurley in the hallway after the game: “Win it all. Take it home. You’ve got the team to do it.”— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanHoops) March 17, 2023
Holding up these rhythms and this precision for forty minutes would have been a feat and the great first half only produced a +2 finish for Iona. In the second half, also thanks to the tricks of the UConn bench, there is no story. 50-24 is the quite striking partial of the second fraction opened by a four-point play by Hawkins, up until then stopped at zero. The Huskies have begun to isolate better on offense Adam Sanogo, who was able to unleash all his mix of strength and agility by exploding in the season high of 28 points (22 only in the second half). First victory in March for coach Dan Hurley and the clear feeling that it is not the last.
#3 GONZAGA 82
#14 GRAND CANYON 70
The progress of Gonzaga’s victory is very similar to that done for UConn. The Bulldogs struggle against themselves in the first half, playing alternately and conceding the electricity of the Grand Canyon which punishes all the uncertainties of coach Mark Few’s defense. Rayshon Harrison and former USC Noah Baumann move very well in the spaced attack of coach Bryce Drew and worry a sometimes nervous Gonzaga who melts as the game progresses. The plan was to attack the iron and, charge after charge, the wall erected by the Antelopes has broken.
The score is also less clear than what Gonzaga did in the second half, dominated to the point of reaching +22. Julian Strawther hit more than once with his floater (28 points for him with 9/15 shooting), Drew Timme turned the head of GCU’s big men dispensing blocks here and there, while Anton Watson was impactful in all facets of the game. They are the three pillars of a version of the Zags that cannot rely on a backcourt, once again under par.
#5 SAINT MARY’S 63
#12 VCU 51
For Saint Mary’s the assumption created especially for Virginia by Tony Bennett is valid: their victory by 12 points is worth as much as anyone else’s +25. One of the many upset theorists on the eve turns into a slaughter in which the Gaels dictate the pace of the game and silence the athleticism of the Rams’ guards. The victory is even more remarkable if we see that Aidan Mahaney was practically a spectator of the match (0 points in 18 minutes). “To beat them we had to conquer the area” said coach Randy Bennett and so it was.
The center Mitchell Saxen he dominated near the rim finishing with 17 points, 7 rebounds and 4 blocks, but also the various Alex Ducas, Logan Johnson and a newfound Augustas Marciulonis got to the rim more or less when they wanted. It must be said that VCU was in the game as long as it was Ace Baldwin: the best player of the last Atlantic 10 went out on -4 with 14 minutes to go due to physical problems. He came back just in time for one last basket, but Saint Mary’s was gone and the pain was too much to continue.