Mobley shone during that season and in the NCAA men’s tournament, but in an elite eight match against the highest seed Bulldogs, Gonzaga’s mustached sophomore with a headband, Drew Timme, quickly claimed that region as his territory. The defense of Southern California, in all its height and length, did little to contain the prolific Gonzaga assault, and the Trojans collapsed en route to an 85-66 loss in Tuesday’s West Region final at Lucas Oil Stadium.
With Timme in the color and the outstanding newcomer Jalen Suggs almost everywhere else, the Bulldogs continued their dominant run. That night, they effortlessly made it seem like the sixth seed Trojans were just another adversary to pass by. The Bulldogs (30-0) were never threatened as they made their way to the Final Four. The program’s first national title is just two wins away. On Saturday is a semi-final against UCLA No. 11, which stunned Michigan in the final game of the night. And so far this season, the Bulldogs have never heard of losing.
“This is a hell of a performance,” said coach Mark Few. “We’ll take it and enjoy it as it is. That doesn’t diminish our desire to win this game, the next game, or two more games. We’re smart enough to know that these are really, really special times. “
Gonzaga’s offense, which Suggs skillfully allowed, proved smooth and fatal again. The Bulldogs didn’t set their first turnover until there was only about a minute left in the first half. At this point they had already made 19 baskets with 12 templates, which equates to 45 points and a monstrous head start. Throughout the evening, Southern California’s defense of the Gonzagas River was barely disturbed.
Tyme’s dominant presence in the depths led him to a team high of 23 points in 10v19 shooting. Corey Kispert and Suggs came to him in double digits with 18 points each. Kispert, a senior All-American, shot three shots from below and had a handful of other good looks that didn’t fall. Suggs, the Star Point Guard, added eight assists and 10 rebounds and scored almost a triple-double. Even with a shooting performance in the second half that didn’t match the brilliance of the first, the Bulldogs delivered another complete outing.
“We worked together all night and didn’t let the ball get too sticky,” Suggs said. “We did a really good job, especially in the first half when we broke that zone [defense] Low.”
The Bulldogs finished with 46 points in the color, fueled by Timme but with entries from across the list. The Trojans (25-8) did not block any shots and were superior to 41-29. The Bulldogs hardly needed any help from the three-point range – they hit 7 out of 21 attempts – because of their assertiveness inside and an exquisite midrange game. Gonzaga had the best two-point field goal percentage in the country (63.9 in that matchup), and USC had the best two-point defense (41.5 percent). When these two forces came together in the Elite Eight, the Bulldogs’ versatility won.
“I know some people were concerned about how he would handle the size there,” few said of Timme. “But I think our staff and Drew and his teammates knew he would be fine. He has many, many, many big lineups and shot blockers and so on. He always finds a way to get his shot. “
Gonzaga’s defense, often the most overlooked piece in his undefeated season, rocked the Trojans by forcing 10 turnovers and guarding the perimeter well. In the three tournament victories in Southern California, the Trojans shot better than 50 percent from a great distance. They have scored at least 10 three points in their last two wins against Oregon and Kansas. The Trojans only made 4 out of 15 attempts against the Bulldogs.
Less than five minutes into the game, Bert Smith, one of the officials, appeared to have passed out and fell on the pitch near the Gonzaga bench. He was immediately taken care of by medical staff in a silent arena. A few minutes later, Smith sat up and was vigilant. He left the arena sitting on a stretcher and continued play with a standby referee who joined the reigning team. Smith didn’t have to be hospitalized, an NCAA spokesman said, and players on both teams regrouped based on the worrying scene.
“I was just shocked and afraid for him,” said only a few. “But I was able to put my head in a little and see that he was talking and being coherent and I was trying to say a short prayer for him and wishing him the best. I just told the guys that we have to keep doing what we did before. “
Southern California’s starting line-up is among the highest in the nation, with four players at least 6-foot-7. The Trojans’ efforts at either end of the floor are anchored by Mobley, a 7-foot newbie who led the team in the standings (16.4 points) and on the boards (8.7 rebounds). His brother Isaiah, two years older and slightly shorter, stepped up the team’s efforts in paint with similar talent.
The Mobleys led the Trojans Tuesday night – 17 points for Evan and 19 for Isaiah – but Southern California shot just 38.7 percent. The Trojans had no answer to Gonzaga’s demeanor and roundness. Neither has another opponent. With each performance, the gap between the Bulldogs and the field seems to widen.
The Bulldogs have played six consecutive Sweet 16s, making their fourth Elite Eight appearance at the track this year. Despite this dominance, Gonzaga had reached the Final Four only once – in 2017, when he lost in the national title game to North Carolina. Now winning all 30 games this season and only passing by a single digit margin, these Bulldogs are gradually nearing the perfect end to their already stellar season.