Syracuse forward Kris Joseph (32) dives for the ball along with Gonzaga guard G.J. Vilarino (5) and Matt Bouldin. (James P. McCoy/Buffalo News)

Syracuse zone stymies Zags' shooters

Gonzaga ranked sixth in the nation in field-goal shooting this season but met its match against the vaunted zone defense of Syracuse on Sunday.

The Bulldogs hit just 3 of 21 three-point shots and got just eight points from leading scorer Matt Bouldin in an 87-65 loss to the Orange.

"They run that zone to perfection," said Bouldin, Gonzaga's senior guard. "Probably every practice squad in the country tries to mimic that 2-3 zone, but it's not the same. I thought we got pretty good looks. I thought we moved the ball pretty well.

We just didn't knock down the shots and they did."

Gonzaga appeared to be in decent shape with four minutes left in the first half. The Bulldogs were within 32-28, and Orange center Rick Jackson was on the bench with three fouls. But Syracuse went on a 15-4 run to take a 47-32 lead at the half.

"We just did not stick with the plan," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "Turnovers and missed shots and missed free throws. I thought that was the game from the four-minute timeout down."

Few said his team was looking to pound the ball inside to center Robert Sacre while Jackson was on the bench but could not get it done. Gonzaga made three turnovers in the pivotal stretch on passes in the lane.

"We were looking to do that, but Sacre had two fouls too, so we had to be cognizant of that fact," Few said. "We were trying but I don't think it's as easy as you would think. In a man-to-man situation you can pop it in there.

What they do is extend out with that zone, and it's really hard to make penetrating passes into your five [center]. They're in the lanes, they're so long that you can't say let's just throw it in there.

It's hard to consistently get the ball in there." .

For Bouldin, the season-ending game was similar to last year's Sweet 16 matchup with North Carolina. He managed seven points versus the Tar Heels in that 98-77 loss. He did not score versus Syracuse until 24 minutes into the game.

Bouldin could not get open.

"They're really long, really athletic," Bouldin said. "They're always contesting every shot, and that makes it tough."
***
There is no guarantee Syracuse center Arinze Onuaku will be ready to play in the Sweet 16 against Butler on Thursday.
Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim did not comment directly on Onuaku's status after the game, but he was not talking as if he was banking on a quick return by the 6-foot-9 senior, who missed the last two games with a right quadriceps injury.
With Onuaku out, Syracuse uses 7-foot freshman DaShonte Riley as the backup in the post to 6-9 Rick Jackson.
In answer to a question about what the team needs to do to keep advancing, Boeheim said: "We got a couple more days with DaShonte to give him some good practice time. And get him up to speed a little bit more, if we can."
***
The Orange must travel to Salt Lake City for its Sweet 16 game on Thursday. Boeheim wasn't thrilled with the scheduling. He would have preferred a Friday game.
"I think it's a tough turn-around for us," he said. "We have to go a long ways. It's always tough. . . . They did us no favors, having to go there and play Thursday."
***
Boeheim claimed to not be surprised that No. 1 Kansas was upset Saturday.
"The problem with college basketball is there's not a big gap," he said. "Everybody wants to make it seem like it's a big gap. It's not a big gap. . . . There's no doubt in my mind that yesterday Northern Iowa was better than Kansas.
Northern Iowa made four or five bad turnovers at the end of the game or it would have been a 10-point game." .
"I know Villanova is a good team," said Boeheim, referring to the Big East team that was upset by Saint Mary's. " Saint Mary's . . . has a great big guy. They've got great guards. They've got great forwards. They have a great coach.
If you watch the games, that was not an upset. They're a better team." .
***
Wes Johnson's career-high 31 points were second-most in HSBC Arena's NCAA history. Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson had 33 against Liberty in 2004.
Syracuse's 87 points were the most by any team in an NCAA game in HSBC Arena. The previous mark of 86 was set by Oklahoma State in 2000.
Syracuse's field-goal percentage of 54.7 was the best against Gonzaga this season. The Zags had held foes to 40.9 percent on the season.

Click here to see the comments. Add yours now!