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Gonzaga steamrolls USC, reaches Final Four as most dominant team this century

Henry Bushnell
·5-min read

A small private Catholic school in eastern Washington that didn't win a single game over the first six decades of the NCAA men's basketball tournament's existence knocked off USC on Tuesday to reach the Final Four.

And the most remarkable part of this remarkable story is that Gonzaga's supremacy was wholly unsurprising.

The new premier program in men's college basketball steamrolled the sixth-seeded Trojans in the Elite Eight, 85-66.

Drew Timme, the Zags' fourth-best NBA prospect, outplayed and flexed on a soon-to-be top-five pick.

Gonzaga advanced to its second Final Four with an aggregate margin of victory of 96, greater than that of the 21st century's most dominant national champion, 2009 North Carolina.

[Related: Referee collapses during Gonzaga-USC in scary scene]

The Zags are now two wins away from their first title, and from the first wire-to-wire undefeated season in men's college hoops since 1976 Indiana. On Tuesday, they cemented themselves as the team to beat this weekend — and perhaps for years to come. 

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - MARCH 30: Drew Timme #2 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts during the first half against the USC Trojans in the Elite Eight round game of the 2021 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Lucas Oil Stadium on March 30, 2021 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
Gonzaga center Drew Timme helped the Bulldogs advance to their second men's Final Four. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

Drew Timme leads Gonzaga's rout

The game was billed as a battle of titans, the nation's best 2-point offense – Gonzaga's at 63.9% – against the nation's best 2-point defense – USC's, with opponents shooting 41.5%.

From the opening tip, however, it was completely one-sided.

The top-seeded Zags forced turnovers on three of USC's first four possessions, and got out in transition as only they can.

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They picked apart USC's zone, the same one that had stymied Kansas and Oregon. "I watched these guys against Kansas, and they looked like an NBA team or something," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. But his team calmly, matter-of-factly jumped out to a 17-4 lead, as if its dominance was no big deal. 

USC went to man-to-man to stem the tide. It couldn't; the lead ballooned to 25-8. USC went back to zone. The lead grew to 36-15.

Gonzaga's catalysts were Drew Timme and Jalen Suggs. Suggs dazzled with his athleticism and passing. He scored a ruthlessly efficient 18 points to go along with 10 rebounds and eight assists.

Timme, though, stole the show. The 6-foot-10 sophomore set the tempo early with a few steals. He scored with craft around the rim, over and around USC freshman Evan Mobley, a projected top-three NBA draft pick. Timme hit mid-range jumpers and hooks. He ran the floor off defensive rebounds. He ran fast breaks himself, and finished with euro steps in transition.

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He shrugged after some made baskets.

He flexed after others.

He pulled out his signature mustache celebration.

He even picked up a dropped dime.

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"I know some people were worried about how he's going to handle [USC's] size," Few said postgame. "But I think our staff and Drew and his teammates knew he was going to be fine. He's faced many, many, many big lineups and shot blockers and such. He always figures out a way to get to his shot. ... It's a different move, different shot each and every time."

Timme finished with 23 points, five boards and four assists. The stat line undersold his brilliance.

Gonzaga is dominant – and here to stay

Timme and Suggs, each in his own way, are emblematic of Gonzaga's rise.

One is a four-star big from Texas, a good-but-not-great recruit, the type Gonzaga couldn't get 10 years ago, and the type most programs couldn't develop into an All-American by his sophomore season.

The other is a five-star stud from Minnesota, an elite recruit coveted by every major program, the type Gonzaga couldn't get five years ago — but the type it gets consistently now.

"Coming here, I knew that we were going to win," Suggs said postgame. "Gonzaga historically has always won, and gotten to the tournament, and has been a great team in the tournament" – which isn't quite true. But for his generation, and and every one that'll follow, it is.

Mark Few is the best coach in college basketball. He built Gonzaga from an off-and-on Cinderella into a top-10 men's program of the 21st century, and arguably the top program of the last five years. And the pillars he built it on are still standing. His players are still will-drilled and well-prepared. Gonzaga is still a destination for international recruits, and the top destination for transfers. Few and hist staff still scout and develop teenagers as well as anybody in America.

Now they're getting McDonald's All-Americans too, and the result is unfair. This Gonzaga team is men's college basketball's best of the KenPom era. It's now 30-0, with an average NCAA tournament victory margin of 24.0 points – a tick above its regular-season average.

None of that guarantees a national title. Scorching-hot UCLA awaits in the Final Four on Saturday. Baylor, the only team considered Gonzaga's equal at any point this season, could await on Monday. Few's first great team fell just short in the title game to North Carolina in 2017.

But this team is better. Statistically better than '09 Carolina, or '01 Duke, or '16 or '18 Villanova. Nobody has beaten it. Only one team has come within single digits. Only two more teams will get to try.

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