Style points were understandably in short supply with Gonzaga playing its second game in less than 24 hours.
The eighth-ranked Zags, after a blazing start, and 11th-ranked Oregon settled into a defensive scrap as both teams fought fatigue Thursday in a Battle 4 Atlantis semifinal in Paradise Island, Bahamas.
What the Zags lacked in aesthetics they more than made up for with resolve and resourcefulness, climbing out of a four-point deficit in overtime to outlast the Ducks 73-72.
It wasn’t an instant classic, but it certainly will be long remembered as the two northwest and national powers squared off for the first time in two decades. Gonzaga (8-0) faces Michigan (6-0), which handled No. 6 North Carolina 73-64, in the championship game Friday at 11 a.m.
“These guys just found enough to make one extra play, even after we lost the lead,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They showed a lot of poise and composure.”
All seven of them. The banged-up Zags are down to a seven-man rotation, and at least three of those players aren’t at full speed. Killian Tillie (knee), who sat out Wednesday’s win over Southern Miss, returned to play 27 minutes.
Senior guards Ryan Woolridge (knee) and Admon Gilder (knee) were shaken up in Wednesday’s game, but Woolridge logged 41 minutes while Gilder played 20. Freshman forward Anton Watson (ankle) watched from the bench with his right foot in a boot.
The Zags led for 34-plus minutes, but both teams’ gas tanks were running on empty in the second half. The biggest lead by either team in the final 19 minutes, counting overtime, was five points as both teams missed shot after shot. Gonzaga shot 29% from the field in the second half while Oregon made 31%.
Payton Pritchard hit a 27-foot 3-pointer to give Oregon its first lead, 51-50, with 11:50 remaining. The Zags pulled back in front 54-53 on Woolridge’s two free throws.
Corey Kispert, following up his 28-point effort on Wednesday, was red hot early and caught fire again late in regulation. He hit two 3-pointers to give Gonzaga a 66-61 edge with 1:12 remaining.
Chris Duarte tied it at 66 with two free throws with 7.3 ticks left. Tillie’s 30-footer was off target at the buzzer.
Oregon worked over Gonzaga on the offensive boards in overtime as the Zags’ bigs were forced to help on dribble penetration. The Ducks took a 70-66 lead, but Filip Petrusev responded with a putback basket and a pair of free throws to even the score with 2:16 left.
Oregon went up with another second-chance bucket, but the Zags broke the Ducks’ full-court press and found Joel Ayayi for a layup with 1:13 remaining to tie it at 72.
Oregon’s Shakur Juiston missed a pair of free throws and Gonzaga’s Drew Timme connected on the second of two foul shots to give the Zags a 73-72 lead with 20.6 seconds remaining.
Pritchard misfired on a contested jumper. Petrusev and Juiston latched onto the rebound but the possession arrow belonged to Gonzaga. The Zags ran out the clock and celebrated a hard-fought victory.
“This reminds me a little bit of March basketball really, which is great,” Few said. “We can adapt to how the game is being called, but I think we showed a lot tonight, again, because of the physicality around the rim.
“I think we won this thing on the defensive end. The offensive numbers were terrific coming in here. Also our guys did a pretty good job with leveling Pritchard off as he’s a handful.”
Gonzaga couldn’t have scripted a better start in the first half. Kispert continued his hot 3-point shooting and Ayayi did the same. Kispert drilled back-to-back 3s and Ayayi added another as the Zags bolted in front 24-7.
Both teams went through a lengthy dry spell offensively, but the Ducks emerged from their funk sooner. The Ducks closed within 31-28 on Duarte’s layup while the Zags were missing 11 straight shots.
Petrusev got GU’s offense back on track with consecutive baskets. Woolridge converted a driving layup – roughly 90 seconds after getting up gingerly from a hard spill – to bump Gonzaga’s lead to eight.
Juiston’s corner jump shot just before the buzzer trimmed Gonzaga’s lead to 43-37 at half.
“I thought (the Ducks) played their tails off,” said Oregon coach Dana Altman, whose team rallied from a 19-point deficit to defeat No. 13 Seton Hall on Wednesday. “I got no complaints there. They gave themselves a chance with their defense.”
Petrusev finished with 22 points and 15 rebounds. Kispert added 17 points and seven boards. Ayayi made three 3-pointers and scored 13 points.
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