INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Top-ranked Gonzaga continued its quest for perfection with an 83-65 win over No. 19 Creighton in the West Regional semifinal on Sunday, March 28 at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind.
Playing in the Round of 16 for the first time since 1974, Creighton’s season ends with a 22-9 overall record. With the win, Gonzaga (29-0) advances to Tuesday night’s Regional final against either USC or Oregon. The Trojans and Ducks meet tonight at 8:45 p.m. Central on TBS. Tuesday’s game will be at Lucas Oil Stadium and air on TBS, with a tip time announced later tonight. The Bulldogs are seeking to become the first unbeaten national champion since Indiana in 1975-76.
Gonzaga never trailed, scoring on four of its first five trips to take a 9-2 lead just three minutes into the game before the Bluejays settled down. Back-to-back hoops from Christian Bishop and a three-pointer from Marcus Zegarowski helped get CU closer. The Bulldogs stretched the advantage to 22-12 on a tip-in from Drew Timme before CU responded with a 13-5 run to draw within two at 27-25 at the midpoint of the first half. Gonzaga countered with defense, compiling a 16-8 run to lead 43-33 at the half.
Zegarowski led all players with 13 points in the opening 20 minutes as the Bluejays 39.5 percent from the field and 23.1 percent from deep. Gonzaga got 12 points each from Timme and Andrew Nembhard, shooting 60.7 percent from the floor and scoring 24 points in the paint.
Just as they did to open the game, Gonzaga started the second half quickly with an 8-2 run to balloon the lead to 51-35 with 15:52 remaining. All-American Corey Kispert, held to two points on just one shot in the first half, scored seven points in the first seven minutes after the break. Gonzaga’s lead reached 20 (62-42) with 11:15 left on a score in transition by Jalen Suggs. Creighton never cut the deficit under 18 points again and trailed by as much as 27 (80-53) in the game.
Gonzaga’s Timme made 10-of-14 shots and scored 22 points, while Nembhard (17), Ayayi (13) and Kispert (12) also scored in double-figures. The Bulldogs shot 59.6 percent from the field and made 9-of-24 three-point tries. GU also had 23 assists on 34 baskets, led by eight helpers from Nembhard. Gonzaga won the rebound battle 35-28 and outscored CU 50-30 in the paint.
Creighton was paced by 19 points from Zegarowski, 13 from Mahoney and 12 by Bishop. The Jays shot 40.6 percent for the game but just 5-of-23 from three-point range and 50 percent at the line.
NOTES: Creighton has made a three-pointer in 913 straight games, the nation’s 14th-longest active streak, while Gonzaga has connected on a trifecta in 947 games in a row to rank 12th. CU has also made a trey before half in 284 consecutive contests … Marcus Zegarowski made a three-pointer in his 23rd game in a row, tied for the sixth-longest streak in program history. He also moved out of a tie with Rodney Buford (212) for sixth on CU’s all-time three-pointers made list … Marcus Zegarowski is the first player in Creighton history to score 17 or more points in each of his first three NCAA Tournament games … Since March 17, 2002, Creighton is now 5-0 in NCAA Tournament games when an individual has a double-double and 0-10 when it doesn’t … Marcus Zegarowski (389) moved past Josh Dotzler (388) for 10th on Creighton’s all-time assist chart … Creighton fell to 14-23 all-time in the NCAA Tournament … Creighton fell to 0-4 all-time against top-ranked teams … All but one of Gonzaga’s wins this season have come by double-figures …Christian Bishop finishes his season shooting 141-for-207 from the field. That 68.1 percent leads the BIG EAST and ranks second-best for a season in program history behind Geoffrey Groselle’s 70.2 percent in 2015-16 … Mitch Ballock moved into the top-20 on Creighton’s scoring list with 1,304 career points, passing Elton Tuttle (1,303) for 20th … Marcus Zegarowski finished the season with 80 three-pointers to lead the BIG EAST, four more than teammate Mitch Ballock.
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Sweet 16 Postgame Media Conference
Gonzaga – 83, Creighton – 65
THE MODERATOR: We are joined by Marcus Zegarowski, and we’ll begin the press conference.
Q. Hey, Marcus. When you experience what it’s like to play against Gonzaga, what’s different about preparing for them versus actually being on the floor and just seeing the pace and the way that they go about doing what they do?
MARCUS ZEGAROWSKI: Yeah, they play so fast and so efficient with everything they do. Like there’s no lapses. Like you just can’t take — not even a play, you can’t take a second off versus them, or else they’re going to make you pay. It’s tough to beat. That’s what it comes down to. It’s a tough team. It’s one of the best teams I’ve ever played. But congrats to them.
Q. Marcus, was it disheartening to not see some shots foul? Not necessarily you in particular, but your team, you guys created some good looks in the first half, but it just didn’t go down. You look at the scoreboard, and you’re down ten at the half. Did that impact you guys at all?
MARCUS ZEGAROWSKI: I don’t think so. The game is a make or miss game. We’re going to miss shots. I think we’re good enough to still miss shots and still win games, and we’ve shown that this year.
It’s just, obviously, against a team like that, at this time of the tournament, the Sweet 16, you want to have some of the shots go — all of us, including myself. It happens. Like I said, congrats to Gonzaga.
Q. Marcus, it’s been a heck of a two-year run from you guys, going back to last year with the Big East championship in the regular season, then losing the tournament, you having a surgery, coming back this year, dealing with all the stuff you’ve dealt with, the pandemic and everything. Can you just kind of talk a little bit about what this two-year run has been like for you guys?
MARCUS ZEGAROWSKI: Yeah, it’s been incredible. I’m just so proud of everybody on this team these past — even guys who were on the team last year, they’re a part of this. They’re the reason why we’re here as well. I’m just so proud of everybody. I think — I mean, we played our hearts out.
I just want to say thanks to all the fans who just kept supporting us through tough times and through everything. Especially for me, for my injury, you guys just always helped me get through it. Just sorry we couldn’t go further, but it is what it is. I’m happy for my teammates.
Q. Marcus, obviously, this season has been anything but normal from the regular season to the tournament. So when you look back on this year and your tournament experience, how will you kind of remember this season?
MARCUS ZEGAROWSKI: It was a grind, and like I said, I’m just so, so proud of everybody involved. It was such a tough year. We didn’t miss a game. I think we’re one of the only teams in the country to be able to do that. Guys were really on point, not only on the court, but off the court.
My competitive side will probably be pissed off because we lost, but that’s life, you know. You’re going to lose in life. Now what’s the next step? It happens.
Q. Is there something you guys were trying to take away from Gonzaga that maybe freed up some of their three-point shooters for a lot of open shots there?
MARCUS ZEGAROWSKI: We noticed that they get a lot at the rim. All five of their players, they get easy lay-ups and easy baskets at the rim. We wanted to really pack the paint in and try to make them beat us by taking jump shots. They obviously hit shots. They got hot early and kind of kept that going.
A team like that, you’ve kind of got to — you know, they just don’t beat themselves. It’s tough. It’s hard to explain, but we just — it was their night tonight. That’s life. It was their day.
Q. Marcus, we know the future is uncertain, especially with what you guys just went through, but is there something in particular that you’re going to — or a few things that you’re going to appreciate about this run and just the kind of way you guys finished the season out? I know it was a goal to make history, and you did that. So even though it hurts right now, is there something you’re going to appreciate about what you guys were able to do?
MARCUS ZEGAROWSKI: Yeah, everything. I appreciate everything. We’d be in hotels for 20 hours of the day. We wouldn’t go outside for a few days. It was a grind, but I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group of guys. It was something I’ll remember for the rest of my life, what we went through.
It was definitely hard on the mental, and it’s something that none of us have ever experienced, but like I said, I wouldn’t want to do it with any other group, yeah.
Q. Marcus, I know we’re asking the questions, and you’re being respectful and answering them, but it does seem that you’ve been able to sort of take it — like kind of see the big picture. Like knowing you, I know how competitive you are and how much this loss stings, but yet you’ve been able to sort of appreciate sort of the long run, the long journey that you guys have been on together. Does that surprise you at all, just that ability to kind of like see the whole deal here in this moment where it’s really painful and it stinks, obviously, to lose?
MARCUS ZEGAROWSKI: Yeah, I’ve come a long way when it comes to that. The old Marcus would have been crying over here probably, I don’t know. Yeah, it’s just something that Coach Mac has talked me through since I’ve been here, and just being around people who really — who know — who’s been in my position — my parents, my older brother. In life, you’re going to lose. That’s just what it comes down to. You’ll probably fail more times than you succeed, but you can’t succeed without failing. That’s life.
The character of a man is how you bounce back from this. Everybody in the locker room wants to bounce back. Everyone’s hurting, obviously. As a competitor, you lose, and you have that fire inside of you, but bigger picture, we had a season, and we got to playing in a great environment in front of our fans. Like I said before, my twin brother basically got his season cancelled, and he’s had like three games, just exhibition games. They don’t really count for anything. So how can I complain about the situation I’m in when he’s going through something like that?
I’m just happy to be able to have a season, and to be able to make history during the season is something special and something that I’ll never forget. I’m just so proud of everybody involved.
Q. Marcus, I know you have some important decisions ahead of you, but what did it mean to you personally to be able to represent Creighton and play for the Bluejays on this national stage and represent the university?
MARCUS ZEGAROWSKI: It’s everything. It’s just the best decision of my life to come to Creighton. It was a gutsy decision. I was so far from home and something different. It’s a whole different lifestyle out here, different people, but I fell in love with it when I got here. It will always have a place in my heart. It’s just family over here. Everybody in Omaha, it’s my second home.
I wouldn’t be the man or player today without this program. I love everybody here. I love Coach Mac, I love the whole staff, all the players that came through here. I’ll always have love for it.
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Sweet 16 Postgame Media Conference
Gonzaga – 83, Creighton – 65
GREG McDERMOTT: Well, first of all, congrats to the Zags. Coach Few does a fabulous job. This is the third time in four years that we played them, and I just have the utmost respect for just how they go about their business, how they play the game. They play the game the right way. They’re incredibly unselfish.
The names and some of the numbers have changed over the course of the years we’ve played them, but their efficiency and the unselfish nature and the way they play the game has not changed. So credit to them.
Obviously, the start of the second half was huge for us. We really felt like, for us to have an opportunity, we had to win that first four-minute time-out, and instead they were able to take that lead from 10 to 14, and then it’s an uphill battle against a team like that.
Q. What did they do, Greg, to kind of keep you guys off balance enough offensively? Just in terms of not being able to score with them — I know it’s tough to do, but you had some stretches there where it was tough to get buckets.
GREG McDERMOTT: I thought we had some decent looks. I thought D.J. had some good looks at threes, Denz did, Mitch missed a couple that he’s normally going to make. We missed a few around the rim. But we talked all week, like you have to score to play with Gonzaga, and we just didn’t score enough.
I thought we forced 16 turnovers, and we tried to really protect the paint early in the game and kind of turn them into a jump shooting team, at least in transition. To their credit, Nembhard in particular really made us pay for that, him and Ayayi really did a great job hitting some of those shots, and that really kind of forced us to stretch out a little bit more. Once you get stretched out against them, you’re asking for trouble because of Timme’s ability to play on the block.
Q. Mac, when Christian got that second foul, what did you see in terms of how Gonzaga was able to get that separation that really ended up — I mean, it kind of turned a one-, two-possession game into a ten-point game from there.
GREG McDERMOTT: I don’t know it was so much — obviously, Christian’s presence on the floor is huge to us, but I thought Ryan went in and did some good things. We had a stretch in that period of time you’re referring to in the first half where we settled for a lot of mid-range shots, and some of them were challenged mid-range shots. Instead of getting deep in the paint, setting our feet, and making some plays off that jump stop.
Gonzaga makes you do that. They force you into that, but they’re not only a good offensive team, they’re a really good defensive team.
Q. You said they’re not only a really good offensive team, they’re a good defensive team. What is it specifically that makes them so effective defensively?
GREG McDERMOTT: I think they have a lot of interchangeable parts, one through four certainly. Then when Watson comes in for Timme, then they switch you five ways some, and Watson moves his feet well enough to keep some guards in front.
But when Suggs and Kispert and Nembhard and Ayayi, they can switch screens and switch a pin-down and take something away, that can be very disruptive on the defensive end. Then Timme just controls that paint really well. Like I said, it’s a different look with Cook because of his ability to get up under you defensively, and certainly Suggs can do that as well.
This is not a one-trick pony. These guys can play on both ends of the floor.
Q. Mac, when you guys first got to Indy, you talked a little bit about what this group has meant to you over these past two years. Now that this run has come to an end, can you just reflect a little bit about how special these players and this run has been for you?
GREG McDERMOTT: Yeah, that’s what I told them in the locker room. Don’t be sad that it’s over, but smile because it happened. This two-year run with this core group has been incredible. You know, Big East championship and the celebration that went with it on the floor after we defeated Seton Hall to get a share of the league title last year, and then finishing a few percentage points behind Villanova this year for another championship, getting to the final, the Big East Tournament, and then really blazing a tournament for our program, getting to the Sweet 16.
That took the effort of a lot of people, but those seniors in particular, Jacob Epperson’s — talk about perseverance and fighting through adversity. I don’t think anybody embodies that any more than Jacob has in my 32 years of coaching because of everything that he’s been through, and he keeps coming back with a smile on his face and has been such a great teammate.
Denzel’s willingness to play a totally different role, to embrace that defensive stopper role, that was so important in the first two games of this tournament, to get us here with the job he was able to do on McLaughlin and Preston. And Mitch, I recruited Mitch in eighth grade. It’s hard to believe this is over in the blink of an eye.
While we’ll miss Mitch on the basketball floor and in the locker room, because he’s such a great teammate, I hope someone can fill the void in the community because he’s engaged himself in our community with young people, with boosters, like very few guys that have played for us.
And then D.J.’s, he’s been our heart and soul. His energy, his passion, his commitment to improvement has been incredible during the four years that he’s been here.
So I know they’re hurting right now, but I hope, when this is over, they can look back and appreciate and celebrate the magnitude of what they’ve accomplished the last two years.
Q. Mac, how much can a trip to the Sweet 16 help build this program to even greater heights?
GREG McDERMOTT: Just it shows what’s possible. If you get a group of guys that will fight for each other and stay committed to a common goal, a lot of special things can happen. That’s something that I talked with the guys as they were coming off the floor, the guys that are returning next year about we want to get back to this point. There’s a lot of effort that goes into that and work that goes into that.
So we’ll — obviously, we’re going to lose some really, really good players, and we’ve got to regroup from that, but our expectation is that we want to compete for championships year in and year out.
Q. What was it like, Greg, this last week? I mean, it’s such a tough challenge to prepare for this Gonzaga team, and you guys were going to dig into all the details. What did you notice from your guys as you kind of ready for this thing? Did you have a sense of how they’d come out and play?
GREG McDERMOTT: Yeah, I think you saw it. What was it, 28-25 ten minutes into the game. We were having a hard time stopping them, but they were having a hard time stopping us too at that point. I think our guys were focused and ready to play and understood what we had to do. We had to take some chances on some of their guys on the perimeter to try to plug some things up because of their ability to get to the rim in transition and get it to Timme in transition. We wanted to take Kispert away in the first half in particular. D.J. did a great job of that.
So our guys were focused. It’s challenging because you’d like to be able to celebrate an accomplishment like this, in particular, with your family, but certainly as well with your friends and your fellow students, and that just wasn’t possible this year. It was 32 of us on the same hotel floor for going on three weeks or four weeks, whatever we’ve been doing it.
But I think they’ll look back and appreciate this and really enjoy the experience as they move forward.
Q. I know these questions are tough because the emotions are really raw right now and you probably haven’t had time to process it. As the group as a whole, like when you look back on teams and try to take away things that you remember most about them, what does this group — what are you going to appreciate most, do you think, about this group and just the waters that they had to navigate in kind of unprecedented times?
GREG McDERMOTT: Yeah, I think it starts with being picked seventh or eighth to win the league in our league standings preseason last year and the focus that they had to prove everybody that that was a mistake. And then this year we were picked to finish second, and many so times living up to expectations can be more challenging than exceeding expectations, and we were able to do that.
When the bell rang, they were ready to go, and I’m really, really proud of them for that. Obviously, we’ve had to navigate through some tough stuff the last month together, and those were some challenging times, but when you have good people in your locker room, you have a chance to get through those tough times. I’ll forever be indebted to them for accepting me for who I am and that I’m a person that makes mistakes and that I’m going to continue to work to be a better person as a result of my mistake.
Q. What aspect of this Gonzaga team do you think will make them tough to beat in the next week, week and a half?
GREG McDERMOTT: The thing that jumps out at me is Kispert had two points at halftime and we’re still down ten. He’s so valuable to what they do, and obviously we committed a lot to take him away. There’s so many ways that they can beat you. Obviously, their elite scoring at the basket and at the rim. They had 50 points in the paint on us again today, and that’s with us trying to take that part of their game away.
I think it’s their balance, and I’ve said it in preparation for this game. It’s one of the best passing teams I’ve seen, one through five, in that starting lineup in college basketball in a long time. I just think, when you make a mistake, they have the patience, and they have the ability to make you pay for it because of their ability to pass.
Q. We’ve asked you about Marcus a lot this year and last couple weeks, but just if you can sum up sort of his tournament run, maybe his March in general, where he just seemed to be playing really good basketball and led the way for you guys down the stretch?
GREG McDERMOTT: It’s no secret it’s been a journey for Marcus this year because of going back to last March with the injury and really missing most of the off-season as a result of that, then having a setback that was of a different nature in October, where he missed significant practice time leading up to the season, and then he had a little setback during the conference season, where he missed a couple of games and we had to get him kind of back.
I think what you’ve seen the last month is the Marcus Zegarowski that built upon all the great things that he did last year. Without the injuries he had to fight through this year, the guy would have been a slam dunk All-American again, first or second team, because he’s played at such a high level and impacted winning in so many different ways. He’s back healthy. He’s got an unbelievable competitive nature that everybody’s seen. It’s been an absolute pleasure to coach.
He’s going to have some decisions to make on his future when the time is right, and we’ll support whatever he chooses to do 100 percent because he’s certainly given his heart and soul to the Creighton Bluejays. Whether he’s back a year or not, we really appreciate the impact that he’s had on our program.
Before I leave, I’d be remiss if I didn’t thank the NCAA and the city of Indianapolis for the job that they’ve done in hosting this event. Until you’re part of the bubble and you see the coordination that goes into something like this, you don’t fully understand or appreciate the planning, the organization that it has taken to pull this thing off in a safe way for everybody involved.
Obviously, it’s been an incredible experience for us, and part of the experience being as good as it was is not just the organization and how well it was run, it was the people that we were interacting with. Some of our hosts that we were going to on a daily basis with questions and at the snap of a finger, they were there to help. They’ve taken an unprecedented, difficult year and created a very positive environment for these young people to try to enjoy what’s been a tough year because of the time that they’ve put into this.
So hat’s off to the NCAA and the city of Indianapolis for doing a first-class job with this tournament.
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Coach Mark Few
Sweet 16 Postgame Media Conference
Gonzaga – 83, Creighton – 65
THE MODERATOR: We’re joined by head coach Mark Few. We’ll begin with an opening statement from Coach Few and then go to questions.
MARK FEW: It’s a great win for us. Once again, I really thought it was our defense that made the difference tonight. They’re a scary offensive unit, especially when you’re preparing for them. I thought we did a really, really nice job, especially on the three line. We knew they wanted to or probably needed to make ten threes, and I thought we really chased Ballock all around the floor and gave up a couple early to Zegarowski, who’s really, really, really good.
By and large, guarded that line really, really good. And then shored up the glass much better in the second half, which got us out running, and that’s when we’re at our best.
Q. Coach, tonight you guys had a phenomenal percentage in the paint, and one of the key reasons why was because of your guys’ passing. What did you think of your team’s passing performance out there tonight? There were some real beauties.
MARK FEW: It’s been like that all year. You know that. You watched us. It’s probably our best attribute. It’s the reason why we have such good balance, and it’s the reason why we scored so well in the paint, even though we really only have one true kind of — Drew’s not a traditional back-to-the-basket guy.
But I saw early that Andrew was just making some really, really solid decisions in the ball screens and making his reads good and really delivering the ball. When he’s in that zone, he’s the best I’ve ever coached, as far as making decisions on ball screens. So we wanted to put him in as many as we could, and he did a great job executing him, and the guy did a great job catching and finishing.
We had some good cuts going. I thought sharing it fairly well. We were just a little bit loose with it there for a while.
Q. Mark, they looked like they were kind of willing to give up three balls to certain guards who made them pay a little bit. But then I thought too, as well, Kispert, only one shot, they were really zeroed in on him. How did the guys handle that, how they defended you and get to where you needed to get to?
MARK FEW: I mean, our numbers ended up great. I haven’t seen our OER. It’s not anything we haven’t seen before. They were playing soft and going under some guys. Those guys have dealt with that all year. I mean, I think, probably when you guard us, you’ve got to pick your poison a little bit. Joel was shooting 40 percent from three. The first three went in, I think, and even the ones that didn’t go in looked pretty good to me.
At this point in the season, it’s not like there’s things that you really haven’t seen. I think our guys get different schemes that people choose, and then they adjust accordingly. I thought we started moving the pieces pretty good and taking one, two, three extra passes to get to the next action, and we were finding a lot of success on that second action.
Q. So much attention goes on your offense, obviously, but your defense, you’re top ten KenPom efficiency. What is it you trust the most, and do they get enough credit for the performances they’ve put in this year?
MARK FEW: I don’t think they do. I think we’ve had excellent, off-the-chart performances, and some terrific halves. I thought we had a good — once we settled in at the end of the first half tonight and then the start of the second half, I thought we did a really nice job.
A couple things they do really well is they really, really absorb and take the scouting reports to hand. They do a great job with their attention to detail for the most part. They’ve grown in that area. I think Jalen has really grown. Hey, we’ve got big wings and big guards, big, strong, aggressive guards like Jalen and Andrew, are the same, so we can switch a lot. Drew can move his feet. Anton can move his feet. So it’s always nice to have that option to be able to switch to go with all your other coverages.
Q. Coach, congratulations. We’ve marveled at your team’s consistency this year, and you mentioned earlier this year, when the team on the other side is dangerous, your team senses it, and they step up. Is it nice, and does it help you sleep at all better knowing your team will show up when the other team’s ready to give it to you?
MARK FEW: It’s nice, but it does not help me sleep any better, no. It was a restless night of sleep thinking about all the ways that Coach McDermott devises these guys and schemes and what they’re capable of doing. Like I said, we knew Zegarowski was good, but he’s one of those players that, when you see him live, you’re like, whoa, okay.
Hey, look, at this point, guys, they’ve shown their competitive spirit. Literally everybody’s been after us since July 1, right? Getting everybody’s best shot. So they’re used to that. They always show, and they’re always going to give great effort. And they’re always going to figure out, eventually, find what’s the best way for us to attack on offense, what’s the best way for us to get it done on defense?
It’s been an absolute joy to coach, but, yeah, there will be no more good nights of sleep here in the bubble from here on out. It’s going to be — these are all going to be really, really hard games.
Q. Hey, Mark.
MARK FEW: I no see or hear from you.
Q. It’s been a while. Congratulations. I wanted to ask you, sort of following up on what you were saying, you’ve been at this point in the tournament before. Is there anything different about the Elite Eight game, because the next step is the one that everybody dreams about?
MARK FEW: No, I would just say, Mike, it just comes so quickly. We had an enormous amount of time off between this game — especially when you’re not traveling. Usually you travel back, hang out for a couple days at home, then travel back out here. There’s all the adjustment to that. But we’re just sitting here. So we had tons of time off.
It’s basically going to come down — we won’t know who we’ll play until after midnight tonight, and then lots of film and lots of prep work by the staff. This is where having a great staff, like the staff I have, I just think is the best in the country, and they’ve been with me so long, and they’re just so good. And all the staffs here just work their tail off. That’s why they become so valuable, trying to figure out — because it’s literally a really, really quick turnaround. We probably won’t do more than anything but a walk-through tomorrow just to kind of rest our guys.
Then you get up, and the next day’s game day. I think that’s the biggest thing I’ve found over the years in these Elite Eights. It’s how quickly they come. So we need to be rested and ready to roll.
Q. When you found out that Andrew was going to be able to play for you this year, how much better did you think this team could get? Obviously, you knew you were going to be very good, but how much better did he make you just with that simple decision?
MARK FEW: Hey, I told the staff, I said, listen, if — I think we need to try to see if we can get a waiver, and I asked Joel, I asked Corey, and then I’m sure you heard this story. I don’t know if I told you, but then I sat Jalen down and said, hey, what do you think about this? Are you all right with that? He just got the biggest grin on his face. I’ll remember it the rest of my life. He was like, Coach, are you kidding me? That would be awesome.
I’ve found over the years the real players, they don’t fear anybody. They welcome all great players around them. And I told the staff after I met with Jalen, you know, this takes us from top 15, top 20 to top 5 and National Championship contender. It really has. He’s a terrific ball screen player, but I’m telling you, he’s really, really done a fantastic job for us defensively. I think it’s a little bit gone unnoticed maybe.
Just the savvy that he plays with, the pace he — you know, he plays at our pace and enjoys playing at that pace. He’s just a big time passer, and he’s become a really good shooter for us also.
Q. Mark, just wanted to ask you about watching your team kind of evolve in terms of the chemistry and passing standpoint. You guys always pass it and share the ball well. But what with this particular team, as you’re watching preseason and everything, how did you see it come together?
MARK FEW: You know, Pat, just we started watching how they were just naturally moving it. So then I started just kind of devising little warm-up and drills where we were really moving it and cutting and getting next actions and all that. They really, really bought into that.
Then I think very quickly we found right out of the gate, especially playing Kansas, you know, that they not only liked to pass — all of them, including Drew — but they’re really, really good at it. That sounds simple and corny or whatever. It’s not just delivering the ball, but the context with — they’re making the decision with. They all have a really good feel for the game. Some of them came with that. Obviously, Jalen and Andrew have this incredible vision. Anton Watson has that.
Corey’s, it was learned. It was stuff he couldn’t do, quite frankly, his freshman or sophomore year. He became very adept now. We’re comfortable putting him in there. Joel’s gotten a lot better at it. Drew’s great. That was one thing that sold me on Drew when we were recruiting him. He would take the ball off the glass and lead the break and make a good decision.
It’s just been a great mix of guys with really, really good feel to make the right basketball play.
Q. Like you mentioned earlier, you said Marcus Zegarowski had a really solid, really good performance against you guys today. How do you think going against him will help you prepare for your matchup against either Oregon or USC?
MARK FEW: I don’t know. I don’t know if they have anybody that’s similar in game to him. Obviously, he’s a great player. I think our guys enjoyed competing against him. They enjoyed competing against Creighton, against Ballock, and certainly Bishop, I think, was a handful for Drew in there.
They’re fired up for the next challenge. We’ll wait and see what it is. The teams are going to be vastly different that we play, whether it’s Oregon or ‘SC, but we know we’re going to have to play great to move on.
Q. Obviously, you guys are making it to the Elite Eight so consistently now. I mean, just in the recent past five, six seasons. Just how far do you feel like this kind of solidifies how far this program has come and how special that is to you?
MARK FEW: I hope people realize just how hard it is. It’s literally the hardest thing we do in our sport is advancing in this tournament. Heck, just look at what happened this year. It’s just a great case in point here.
So it’s really, really hard. You’ve got to be really good, and you’ve got to be good on that particular night. Obviously, it takes a talented team and a good team, but it also takes a little luck and then just total, incredible focus by your guys to be your best on that particular afternoon or evening.
But it’s really hard, and I know we’ve done it quite a few years in a row now, but I can tell you, it’s hard. It’s hard to get to this tournament, and it’s hard to win games in it. It’s something that I’ll never, ever, ever take for granted.
I just am so proud of our guys, all our guys over the years, and just been blessed to be a part of these groups that do know how to get it done and win games in this thing.
Q. Mark, congratulations. I know you guys have spoken along the way here that the undefeated thing is not in your minds, but when teams are on runs like you guys are and you get to the next higher and higher step, the pressure obviously ratchets up a bit. I just wonder what is it about the makeup of your group that they — allows them to play so freely and seemingly very unaffected by all of that, the big picture, if you will.
MARK FEW: Again, I’m just telling you, we’re not hung up on the undefeated thing at all. We’ve got to go undefeated from here on out. We’ve got to go 3-0 if we want to win the championship, which is — that’s been our goal all along. But nobody’s talking about the overall undefeated thing at all.
You’re right. I think pressure’s on all these teams as you get farther and farther along with this, and the pressure comes from a lot of places. I think the biggest place it comes from is you don’t want it to end. Our team just absolutely — I mean, I bet, if you asked them, they wish they could play 25 more games together. So you just don’t want it to end.
But there’s a looseness about them because you’ve got Drew Timme on your team, for one, and Joel Ayayi has just an infectious enthusiasm about him. Heck, Jalen’s 19 years old. This is his first time through. He doesn’t know any different. So he’s having a great time. I think we’re younger than people gave us credit all year, and I think this team deserves a lot of credit for that.
Andrew’s new to us. Anton’s a sophomore. Drew’s a sophomore. Corey’s the only real grizzled veteran of the whole group.
Q. You just talked about Drew and how he’s pretty much the only real veteran right there. How much can you say about him and how he’s led this team on and off the court, helping the young guys and helping them keep their heads straight?
MARK FEW: He does a nice job in his own way kind of mentoring. He’s done a really good job with Ben Gregg. Ben should be in high school right now. He’s really taken Ben under his wing. It’s tough. Ben’s jumping in on a team with a bunch of guys that are really close and know each other, and he should be in high school. He’s just done a wonderful job helping Ben get acclimated, instilling him with some confidence.
Then all the while, like I said, with our own particular group, I think he keeps it loose enough, but everybody knows that Drew’s a fierce competitor too, and he shows that when he’s on the floor, but he’s got a great disposition. He knows how to have fun.
THE MODERATOR: Thank you so much, Coach. We appreciate your time. Good luck on Tuesday. This will be Gonzaga’s fifth Elite Eight appearance, and four of those appearances have occurred in the last six tournaments, 2015, ’17, ’19, and ’21.
Sunday, March 28, 2021
Indianapolis, Indiana, USA
Sweet 16 Postgame Media Conference
Gonzaga – 83, Creighton – 65
THE MODERATOR: We’re now joined by Andrew Nembhard. Andrew scored 17 points and had 8 assists in the 83-65 victory over Creighton.
Q. Hi, Andrew. You guys just had an absolutely dominant passing performance tonight. Just how fun is it for you to be out there and dropping those dimes? Is it sometimes more satisfying than scoring a bucket?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: Yeah, I think that’s been our identity all season. I think we play best when we’re just moving the ball because we have so many pieces and so much versatility. It’s just like playing a part with a bunch of guys that click so well. So it’s been really fun.
Q. You look like your mindset was pretty clear, attack mode early on. Was that the case? And it looked like also they maybe were letting certain guys shoot the three ball, or at least daring you to shoot them.
ANDREW NEMBHARD: Yeah, yeah. Coach just told me to start the game off aggressive, and I think I was one of those guys and a few other guys were kind of getting dared to shoot. I think we came out, and we shot aggressive and shot confidently, and they went down early for us. So it was good.
Q. Hey, Andrew, I wanted to ask you about defense. You guys ran them off the three-point line, gave up only five, held them below their scoring average. For all the credit you guys get for offense, does your defense get overlooked? Do you think you’re a better defensive team than people give you credit for?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: Most definitely. I think we’re very overlooked defensively. When we have that side of the ball clicking is when we’re really at our best. I think today we locked into the scout and changed up coverages. They had some great offense, and they were sticking with us at first, but we got a few kills, and that led to kind of our run and our lead. So definitely.
Q. Your brother committed to Creighton. You play for Gonzaga. What have the conversations been like leading up to this game? Any rivalry? Was he pulling for you? What was the deal there?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: Yeah, he’s obviously always going to want to see me do well, and he’s not there yet. So he’s definitely rooting for me, but excited to see me play against his team. I think he’s in great hands with those guys over there because they do a great job for sure.
Q. Hey, Andrew, when you first got to Gonzaga, you weren’t even sure if you were going to be eligible to play. How easy was it to kind of assimilate into this team and into this offense?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: I think it was really easy, honestly, just because of how the team played and how I play. I think I can bring versatility. I can pass. I can score. So they can put me in different roles in every game. I can plug into different spots easily, and the way we run and move the ball so much, it’s just easy — really easy to fit in.
Q. I was actually going to ask you a similar question, so I’ll change it up. Just wanted to ask you about the number of bounce passes you were able to make to guys today and how that all came together for you.
ANDREW NEMBHARD: Yeah, I think I was just reading the game, reading what the defense was giving to me. They were kind of putting two guys on the ball sometimes with the passes, pretty open. So just finding those guys going to the rim.
Q. Congrats on the win. It just seemed like, when you and Drew were on the court, it just seemed like it was effortless for you guys to create offense. Can you just speak to that connection you have with Drew and why it’s so easy for you both to create offense.
ANDREW NEMBHARD: Yeah, I think our connection has grown this whole year, and I think that it’s not even just our connection, it’s just the way we move our parts off the ball, and guys can’t get off of Corey when he’s lifting. So it just — the other guys make it so much easier for us to play that two-man game because they’re moving and distracting the help side defense for sure. So it’s basically two-on-two at that point.
Q. I know you’ve been through a lot of ups and downs in your basketball career, beginning all the way back to your high school year when you had your intestinal condition and then going through Florida. What does it mean to you, I guess, to kind of be able to persevere through all that and to perform on this stage?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: Just exciting, and I’m so grateful to kind of be able to be out there playing every day, especially with COVID this year too. It’s just nice to see that I’m back on the court now and doing good things.
Q. I just have a question. You guys have all talked about the fact that the undefeated record doesn’t mean much to you. It’s more about winning the title, but I just wonder, as this has continued on for you guys, normally pressure ratchets up a bit, and you guys don’t seem to be affected by that at all. I’m wondering what allows you to be as free as you are when, obviously, that’s kind of hanging over you as a great accomplishment?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: I think we always talk about just being us. We’re not too satisfied about winning a championship. What we do with each other and how we make each other better, that’s what we’re more satisfied with every day. So I don’t think we see too much pressure in it.
Also, at this point, every team has to go undefeated now to win the tournament. So there’s not really pressure to keep that streak. It just is what it is.
Q. I just wanted to ask you kind of what your takeaways and thoughts were going up against Marcus Zegarowski tonight, finished with 19 points, and there were some points throughout the game where he was really hot and getting his shots up. I just wanted to ask what your thoughts were playing against him.
ANDREW NEMBHARD: Yeah, I thought he was really good, honestly. I thought he was really quick. He got to his shots quick. He attracted multiple players at times. I thought Jalen did a really good job on him tonight. He’s a tough guard. He’s done really good for them.
Q. I’ve heard that your most challenging games are your in-house five-on-fives, and I know you guys are trying to stay humble here, but you just don’t look like you’ve been tested yet. Is there something that you believe that exists with this team that would still surprise America, who are unfamiliar with you guys? Are there parts of your game that you have not had to unleash yet? I’m just wondering if you feel like you’ve exerted all the horsepower your team has to offer.
ANDREW NEMBHARD: No, I definitely don’t. I think we always talk about just squeezing out that last 5 percent, especially at this point in the season. You can always get better. We can always work on things. We can always make adjustments. We always talk about expanding our package.
So I definitely think we’re still improving and there’s still work we can do.
Q. Hey, Andrew, I was watching Drew Timme’s interview, and he talked about the mustache and how that’s something he does just to keep things light and just make things a little more fun on the court.
THE MODERATOR: Everybody’s asking about Drew Timme’s mustache.
Q. Yeah. How much do those things help you guys to stay in focus and also stay kind of loose?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: Yeah, every time he has that ‘stache, he’s been playing well. I’m all for the ‘stache, honestly. He’s that type of person with that type of personality. It fits, and we’re all for it at this point.
Q. Are there any other little things you guys do to also keep things light?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: I think just naturally, the way we warm up, the way we interact with each other, we always keep it light. We don’t mix business with pleasure, but we know when we kind of have our time to have fun and have our time to kind of get locked in and focused.
Q. Andrew, so much has been made, Coach Few saying that he wants you to attack the game, attack the rim. In that first half, are you starting to learn the moments in the game when you can attack, assert yourself, and use your offense?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: Yeah, I think the biggest thing for me is to just stay aggressive at all times on the court. I think, when I get passive, it’s not good for myself, and it’s not good for the team. So Coach is always telling me to kind of be aggressive and look to score and look to the others involved. I think I’ve been doing that good lately.
Q. You have a lot of championship game experience. I believe you won a high school national championship and won a silver medal with Canada a few years ago. My question, what has your experience taught you about what it takes to win a championship?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: I think playing on good teams in the past, you just get the same feeling from playing on those teams and just the camaraderie and togetherness and the ability to fight through adversity. I think that’s what I see in this team too. Yeah, that’s really what it is.
Q. You guys have so many weapons offensive and defensively. Do you feel like you guys have even peaked yet?
ANDREW NEMBHARD: No, I don’t think we have peaked. I think that, as I said earlier, we can always get better, and we can always work on our stuff. So I think that we’re getting close, and we need to squeeze that 5 percent out that we talk about.
THE MODERATOR: Andrew, thanks so much for your time today. Greatly appreciate it.
FastScripts Transcript by ASAP Sports
106125-1-1222 2021-03-28 20:27:00 GMT