March Madness: No. 5 Gonzaga absolutely dominates No. 4 Kansas in second half to advance to Sweet 16

It's the ninth straight Sweet 16 appearance for the Bulldogs

Gonzaga is back in the Sweet 16 again.

The No. 5 Bulldogs sprinted away from No. 4 Kansas to start the second half on the way to an 89-68 win over the Jayhawks in the Midwest region. After Kansas led 44-43 at halftime, the Jayhawks took a four-point lead less than 30 seconds into the half.

From there, Gonzaga dominated. The Zags outscored Kansas 37-6 until the six-minute mark in a flurry that included a 14-0 run and a 13-0 run.

Gonzaga has now won at least two NCAA tournament games for the past nine tourneys. You have to go back to 2014, when Gonzaga was a No. 8 seed, to find the last time the Bulldogs didn’t make the Sweet 16.

Kansas was absolutely overmatched on the defensive end. It’s a sentence you don’t often read about a Bill Self team. But with leading scorer and top perimeter defender Kevin McCullar Jr. out for the NCAA tournament, the Jayhawks didn’t have a stopper on the wing. They also had no answers for Gonzaga’s pick-and-roll, either.

The Bulldogs made it clear from the opening tip to target Kansas center Hunter Dickinson whenever possible. And Dickinson and Kansas weren’t able to adjust. Gonzaga repeatedly got open 3-pointers or shots at the basket as Kansas players were slow to rotate.

Kansas shot well from deep in the first half

The Jayhawks had a lead at the break thanks to seven 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes. Nick Timberlake’s 3-pointer to open the second half was the most Kansas had in a single game since a January win against Oklahoma State.

The hot shooting didn’t continue. Kansas made just one 3-pointer the rest of the game after Timberlake gave the Jayhawks a 47-43 lead.

Kansas also benefitted from the absence of Gonzaga star big man Graham Ike in the first half. Ike sat out much of the opening period after he picked up his second foul with eight minutes to go. Ike was hot to start the second half when he was back on the court and was a catalyst for Gonzaga’s surge.

The most consistent program in college basketball

Gonzaga’s Anton Watson led all scorers with 21 points and was 8 of 11 from the field. Ryan Nembhard had nine assists in the first half and finished the game with 12. The Zags shot over 60% from the field.

To put Gonzaga’s current Sweet 16 streak in perspective, Houston has the second-longest active streak in college basketball and would be at five Sweet 16s in a row with a win on Sunday. All Gonzaga does in the NCAA tournament under Mark Few is make it to the second weekend.

This year’s Gonzaga team has been a bit different than previous iterations. The No. 5 seed the Zags earned in the 2024 tournament was their lowest since being a No. 11 seed in 2016. Over the past six tournaments, Gonzaga has been a No. 1 seed four times.

Those teams have featured stars like Jalen Suggs, Chet Holmgren, Rui Hachimura, Corey Kispert and other first-round NBA draft picks. This year’s team is led by Ike, a transfer from Wyoming, and Watson, a player who is in his fifth season in Spokane.

The 2023-24 Zags also slumped in December. Gonzaga went 4-4 from Dec. 9 through Jan. 11 and lost to teams like Washington and Santa Clara while also losing by 13 to UConn. Since then, Gonzaga has lost twice in 18 games and ended the regular season on an eight-game win streak.

If No. 1 seed Purdue beats Utah State on Sunday, the Bulldogs will meet the Boilermakers in the Sweet 16. And their frontcourt excellence could make them an extremely tough matchup for Purdue and star center Zach Edey.