BUFFALO, N.Y. -- So now Gonzaga draws Syracuse in what amounts to a home game for the Orange, and some people will tell you that's wrong, unfair and an enormous disadvantage for the poor Zags.
Don't believe it.
They played Michigan State tough in East Lansing. They outlasted Illinois in overtime at Illinois. And they survived Memphis at Memphis.
|'You just knew you were going to hit bodies,' Robert Sacre says of the physical FSU game. (Getty Images)|
They did Friday for most of a 67-60 defeat of Florida State, but they let the Seminoles cut an 18-point second-half deficit to four with 2:21 left -- and it could have been dicey if Florida State's Michael Snaer could have hit a free throw down the stretch.
Alas, he missed the front end of a one-and-one before clanking two others, and the Zags held on.
While it's tempting to portray Gonzaga as this week's winner of Survivor, lucky to hold off a Florida State team that blew critical opportunities, the Zags are more, much more than that. They hit 50 percent of their shots, the first time in the last 68 games an FSU opponent reached that mark, and they outrebounded the Seminoles 38-32. More important, they refused to give in to the ACC's third-place finisher, holding on when it counted.
Keep that in mind Sunday because while Syracuse is the West Regional's top-seeded team, it will be without center Arinze Onuaku, still nursing a sore quadriceps injury suffered in the Big East tournament. That means it could be handicapped, and that's never a good idea when the Zags are in town -- even if the crowd and the odds are against them.
Recap: Gonzaga 67, Florida State 60
Look, they were supposed to have trouble scoring against Florida State -- a club that led the nation in defensive field goal percentage -- but they did not. They were supposed to have trouble rebounding with the Seminoles, too, especially with FSU plugging 7-foot-1 center/eraser Solomon Alabi into the middle of the lane, but that didn't happen, either. And they were supposed to be outmuscled by the big, bad Seminoles. I don't need to tell you how that worked out.
"Going in," said Gonzaga center Robert Sacre, "you just knew you were going to hit bodies. We knew coming to Buffalo it's going to be a Buffalo Sabres game, basically."
And it was, with Gonzaga's Elias Harris playing the role of former Buffalo goalie Dominik Hasek, rejecting a Luke Loucks drive to the basket with just over six minutes left. That block got lost afterward, but it shouldn't have. It could have cut a 51-44 lead to five and had the Zags on the critical list.
But Gonzaga toughened up, just as it has all season, and that's why Syracuse should be careful. Common sense says that Sunday's game is a lock for the favored Orange, but I wouldn't be so sure. A close call like Friday's game here ... and that win in Illinois ... and that win in Memphis ... anyway, those experiences convince Gonzaga that its next game is not all that different from any other it played this season.
Even though it is.
"Do you think it's fair you have to play Syracuse here?" coach Mark Few was asked.
"I don't know if fair exists out there in the world," he said. "It is what it is. It says we have to [play] so we're going to be here and look at it as a great opportunity. Last year we ran into a great one seed. This year we're running into another one seed. Hopefully, we can fare a little bit better."
Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. All I know is they won't be intimidated. They haven't been yet.