SALT LAKE CITY -- After a slow start in Gonzaga's first-round win over South Dakota State, it was the second half that put the Zags on their heels in a 79-73 win over Northwestern in the second round of the NCAA tournament.
The Zags had gone into the half with a seemingly safe 18-point lead after dominating the first 20 minutes, making Northwestern's Cinderella story look as though it was ready to close its final chapter. But Gonzaga encountered a second-half Northwestern team that took advantage of nearly every Bulldog mistake and miscue, clawing its way back to within six with a minute and a half to go.
The team that had scored seven points off Northwestern turnovers in the first half was now the team that had turned over the ball 11 times (and allowed the Wildcats to score 17 points off those turnovers). The Bulldogs, which had suffocated Northwestern with their defense and allowed just 30 percent shooting from the floor, had now allowed the Wildcats to outscore them by 12 in the second half.
Gonzaga allowed Northwestern to hang around for too long -- a feeling that looked familiar to anyone who watched No. 1 seed Villanova lose to 8-seed Wisconsin early on Saturday in the East Region. The Bulldogs ultimately began to look like themselves from the free throw line, where they sank 7 of 10 free throws in the final 40 seconds. Those might not have been the most important free throws for Gonzaga, though.
Prior to that, Gonzaga received two key free throws as result of a technical on Northwestern coach Chris Collins, who argued that a blocked shot should've been goaltending with five minutes left in the game, a belief that was supported by replays of a Gonzaga defender putting his hand through the net on a Dererk Pardon dunk attempt. The NCAA admitted after the game that the officials got the call wrong on the blocked shot.
Collins' technical gave the Zags two free throws and the ball, resulting in a four-point swing late in the game that helped Gonzaga withstand Northwestern's attempted comeback.
Gonzaga was led by Nigel Williams-Goss, who finished with 20 points, 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Jordan Mathews and Zach Collins both added 14 points.