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Gonzaga advances to 5th-straight Sweet 16 with win over Baylor, 83-71

(Carter Williams, KSL.com)


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SALT LAKE CITY — If you didn’t know the name Brandon Clarke before Saturday’s second round matchup between Gonzaga and Baylor, you sure do now.

Clarke, Gonzaga’s star forward, scored 36 points while making 83 percent of his shots on 15-of-18 shooting to lead the Zags into their fifth-straight Sweet 16 in a 83-71 win over Baylor.

Clarke was consistent throughout the game, scoring 18 points in the first half and 18 more in the second. The junior hit eight of his 10 shot attempts in the first half while leading the Zags to a 16-point halftime lead.

Three of his first-half makes came in the form of high-flying dunks — something the forward has been known for all season long.

“They’re easy for him, unlike the rest of us,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said of Clarke’s ability to dunk the basketball.

“This is easily the most fun I’ve had playing basketball,” Clarke said.

As Clarke was flying high and dunking all over the Bears, sophomore Corey Kispert also came up big for the Zags throughout the game. Kispert hit a pull-up three in transition and found himself in the right place at the right time for an offensive rebound and layup that helped propel the Zags to a 9-0 early run in the first half.

Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke throws down a windmill dunk during the Bulldogs' 83-71 win in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Vivint Arena on Saturday, March 23, 2019. Clarke led Gonzaga with 36 points and eight rebounds. (Photo: Carter Williams, KSL.com)
Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke throws down a windmill dunk during the Bulldogs' 83-71 win in the second round of the NCAA tournament at the Vivint Arena on Saturday, March 23, 2019. Clarke led Gonzaga with 36 points and eight rebounds. (Photo: Carter Williams, KSL.com)

“Corey Kispert was our player of the game,” Few said. “The things we asked him to do, rebounding wise and defensively, then to step up and make those big shots was huge.”

Kispert also hit two big threes in the second half, pushing the Bears back each time they came knocking on the door.

Despite the play of Kispert and Clarke in the first half, the play of the game may have been made by Geno Crandall near the midpoint of the half. Crandall nailed a 3-pointer that was intended to be an alley-oop pass to Clarke, prompting laughter and applause from the Gonzaga faithful.

“I thought it was probably going to land in the cylinder, so I was probably best off not to touch it,” Clarke said of the play. “I guess I can say it was a great passing shot.”

After making the first shot of the game, Baylor’s offense went ice-cold in the first half. The Bears, who hit 10 threes in the first half of their win over Syracuse on Thursday, missed nine-straight 3-point attempts in the half, shooting 10 percent from behind the arc in the first half against Gonzaga.

This gave the Zags a comfortable 39-23 lead with 20 minutes left to play.

Baylor finally saw the lid come off the hoop at the start of the second half as King McClure and Makai Mason hit back-to-back threes and hustle plays resulted in offensive rebounds for open layups to cut the Gonzaga lead to just six.

The Zags responded, however, by going right back inside to Clarke.

Zach Norvell found Clarke wide open in the middle for a dunk, then Clarke hit a tough, fade-away jumper near the end of the shot clock to build the lead once again.

“They jumped us and we were back on our heels,” Few said of the first couple of minutes of the second half. “In the first 20 minutes, we were the ones making plays, we were the ones hustling and getting those 50/50 balls. … We had to bring the fight to them.”

Gonzaga maintained their lead for the rest of the half, responding to each Baylor run and never letting the lead fall below five.

“We faced a really, really tough, hard-nosed Baylor squad that’s got a lot of fight in them,” Few said.

Gonzaga outrebounded the Bears and limited their 3-point shooting, two elements of the game Few wanted his team to focus on.

“We ended up beating them on the glass and holding them to four threes,” Few said. “Those were the two areas that we really wanted our guys to focus on and showed preparation to try to take away.”

Gonzaga will play No. 4 Florida State on Thursday, March 28 in Anaheim, California.

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