Powerhouse Gonzaga is one victory away from reaching the Sweet 16 for the eighth consecutive NCAA Tournament.
The impressive streak is one of the program’s many accomplishments that Bulldogs coach Mark Few relishes.
But Sunday night, sixth-seeded TCU will be out to halt that run of success when it battles third-seeded Gonzaga in West Region play at Denver.
The Bulldogs (29-5) reached the second round with an 82-70 victory over 14th-seeded Grand Canyon on Friday. Julian Strawther led the way with 28 points and 10 rebounds.
“These games are hard to win,” Few said. “I think it’s the hardest thing to do in our sport is win an NCAA Tournament game. It’s the players, man. They deserve all the credit. They’re prepared. They’re ready. They’re not succumbing to maybe the pressures that come when you’re not the pesky little underdog that everybody is rooting for.”
The Horned Frogs (22-12) earned their second-round opportunity when JaKobe Coles drove in and sank a short floater with 1.5 seconds left for a 72-70 victory over Arizona State on Friday. TCU overcame an 11-point, second-half deficit.
Horned Frogs star Mike Miles Jr. fed Coles for the decisive shot.
“It was a big moment for sure,” Coles said. “It was a good pass by Mike. I figured they were probably going to try to double him. And I just take the shots I always take. I’m confident in them.”
TCU has never won two games in the same NCAA Tournament but put up a supreme battle in last year’s second round before succumbing to No. 1 seed Arizona 85-80 in overtime.
Now the Horned Frogs tackle another one of the sport’s behemoths.
“Every game from now on is a big game because we can go home after we lose,” said Miles, who scored 26 points against Arizona State.
“We’re going to stay ready, prepare for Gonzaga. We know they’re a great team, got one of the best players in the Drew Timme. Prepare for them the right way, come out with the same intensity and try to get the win.”
Timme scored 21 points against Grand Canyon and recently became Gonzaga’s all-time leading scorer. He has 2,231 points entering Sunday’s matchup.
The fourth-year senior has indicated that this is his final campaign with the Bulldogs and he has no intention of dropping the intensity level before the March Madness run concludes.
“Everything is so high paced,” Timme said. “The moment you get content and relax is the moment you get upset.”
Another victory would also allow the Zags to reach the 30-win mark for the eighth time in the past 11 seasons.
“It just comes down to having great players, and they buy into what we’re doing,” Few said. “They do a great job preparing, and they usually — for the most part, I think we’ve played our best basketball this time of year and during this tournament, because if you don’t, you’re going to get beat.”
Horned Frogs coach Jamie Dixon has recorded five seasons of 20 or more wins in seven campaigns since taking over at his alma mater. This is TCU’s third NCAA appearance during his tenure.
Dixon said the game-winning play had two options with Miles making the right decision by passing to Coles.
“These guys stayed together and battled, and they willed themselves to win,” Dixon said. “That means a lot to me. …
“We didn’t play great, but we played tough and we competed and we figured it out and we kept battling with a big deficit, and that shows a lot of character and a lot of belief in each other.”
The teams have split two previous meetings. TCU won the most recent one, 90-87 on Dec. 30, 1998 in Fort Worth, Texas.