ANAHEIM, Calif. — Texas Tech is heading to its first Final Four thanks to a kid from Italy who made the big shots and a defence that refuses to rest.
Davide Moretti opened up a late lead with the two most important 3-pointers of his life, Tariq Owens came up with a big rejection and the Red Raiders caught a ride straight to Minneapolis with a 75-69 victory over top-seeded Gonzaga on Saturday.
Moretti also made all four of his free throws down the stretch to wind up with 10 of his 12 points over the final 4 minutes.
The first of them –a spot-up 3-pointer from the side of the arc– gave third-seeded Texas Tech (30-6) a five-point lead, its largest to that point, with 3:49 remaining. The second came with 1:50 left and pushed the advantage to six.
Six might not seem like much. But then again, not every defence is like the one coach Chris Beard draws up, and demands, out of the transfers and second-choice players he started bringing to Lubbock when he arrived three seasons ago.
Nobody’s overlooking them now.
“It’s real. That defence is real,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It impacted us tonight. They took a lot of balls tonight.”
Texas Tech had nine steals among 16 turnovers by Gonzaga.
With Texas Tech leading 68-62 and less than a minute remaining, Owens swooped over to the sideline to reject Gonzaga’s NBA-bound star, Rui Hachimura, and put an exclamation point of sorts on a celebration that was just getting warmed up.
Gonzaga (33-4), which spent a good chunk of the season atop the AP Top 25, pulled within 71-69 on Zach Norvell Jr.’s putback with 11 seconds left. But Josh Perkins reached over the end line and tipped the ball out of Matt Mooney’s hand as he was inbounding for a technical.
Moretti did the honours –sinking the technical free throws– and then made two more after Gonzaga fouled in desperation.
Jarrett Culver, an NBA prospect who chose his hometown college over several other suitors, led the Red Raiders with 19 points. Mooney, a transfer from South Dakota State, had 17.
But, as usual, the biggest stats came on defence. Texas Tech held the Bulldogs’ nation-leading offence to 42 per cent shooting and nearly six more turnovers than their season average. This was only the fourth time Gonzaga was held under 70 this season.
“I think I turned the ball over five times in the first half,” Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke said. “It’s something I’ve never done.”
Bottom line, Texas Tech gives teams very little room to breathe.
And though Gonzaga was the only team to beat Duke and Zion Williamson at full strength this season, there will be no rematch.
This was a tight, back-and-forth game. Neither team led by more than five for the first 38:10, until Moretti spotted up for one of the most open looks of the game for either team.