Gonzaga rolls past Utah and into Sweet 16

By Michael Kelly, The Sports Xchange  |  March 20, 2016 at 1:00 AM
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DENVER -- Gonzaga was in danger of not making the NCAA Tournament a week before Selection Sunday.

Now the Bulldogs are one win from reaching the Elite Eight for the second straight year.

Domantas Sabonis had 19 points and 10 rebounds and 11th-seeded Gonzaga routed third-seeded Utah 82-59 in the second round of the NCAA Tournament's Midwest Region on Saturday night.

Eric McClellan scored 22 points and Kyle Wiltjer had 17 for the Bulldogs (27-7), who will play the Middle Tennessee State-Syracuse winner in Chicago next weekend.

The Bulldogs are in their 18th straight NCAA Tournament, but it didn't look good after losing to St. Mary's on Feb. 20. They won their last two games and then swept through the West Coast Conference Tournament, beating St. Mary's in the title game to secure the automatic berth.

Gonzaga hasn't wasted the opportunity, routing Seton Hall in the first round and blitzing Utah.

"By the way we were playing, you couldn't tell if there's been any pressure on us," McClellan said. "We've been playing free, we've been playing confident, we've been playing loose. Most importantly, we've been playing together."

Sabonis got the better of the much-anticipated matchup of big men. Utah's Jakob Poeltl was a non-factor for most of the game, finishing with five points and four rebounds.

An emotional Poeltl said in a teary Utah locker room that he will take some time before deciding if he'll forgo his last two years of eligibility and enter the NBA Draft.

"Right now, I really don't want to leave, but I'm going to look at this decision I have to make over the next couple of weeks, days, whatever," he said.

Kyle Kuzma had 15 points and Lorenzo Bonam scored 12 for the Utes (27-9), who were blown out for the second time in eight days. Oregon beat Utah 88-57 in the Pac-12 championship game on March 12.

Sabonis frustrated Poeltl all night, holding him to 2-of-5 shooting from the floor. He dominated the matchup, which was highlighted when he blocked Poeltl's jumper with 10:14 left and pumped a fist as he ran downcourt before hitting a layup to make it 64-39.

The double-double was Sabonis' 22nd of the season.

"Of course, I was a bit excited to play against him," Sabonis said of Poeltl. "Our main focus was to win the game. I'm happy my teammates helped me out."

McClellan converted a three-point play and Wiltjer hit a jumper to give the Bulldogs a 25-point lead.

Gonzaga led by as much as 30 and was never seriously challenged after building a double-digit lead late in the first half.

"We played as good as probably we've played all year on the biggest stage," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.

The Bulldogs led for all but 20 seconds and took control with a 20-7 run to end the first half, most of which came with Poeltl on the bench. The 7-foot sophomore fouled Sabonis with 6:38 left before intermission and went to the bench for the rest of the half.

Gonzaga took advantage of his absence, scoring 13 of the last 17 points of the half to lead 44-29 at the break.

Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak said he didn't consider putting Poeltl back in during the decisive run, and used the moment to say players should be allotted six fouls in a game instead of five.

"I've been an advocate of saying there should be six fouls in college basketball all along," he said. "It's not what we came to watch, fans and players. I wouldn't want Sabonis to get quick fouls, to be honest with you. It's like a coin flip. I would like to see the rule change for the betterment of the game."

The Bulldogs opened the second half on a 9-2 run to lead 53-31. The Utes, who shot 42.3 percent from the floor for the game, missed their first six shots in the second half.

NOTES: Gonzaga reached the Sweet 16 for the seventh time since 1999. It's the Bulldogs' second straight appearance, the first time they've done that since reaching three in a row from 1999 to 2001. ... Utah is now 7-3 as a No. 3 seed in the NCAA Tournament. ... Gonzaga is 3-1 in NCAA Tournament games in Denver. ... Seven of Utah's nine losses this season were by double digits. ... The Bulldogs are the 18th No. 11 seed in NCAA Tournament history to reach the Sweet 16.

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