ANAHEIM, CA — As the adage goes, “everything is bigger in Texas”.
Rest assured, the same goes for the small town of Lubbock, which has plenty of reason to celebrate. The no. 3 seed Texas Tech Red Raiders, fresh off an upset win against the Michigan Wolverines Thursday, defeated the no. 1-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs 75-69 on Saturday to win the West Regional and advance to their first-ever Final Four.
Gonzaga, who were aiming for their second trip to the Final Four in the last three seasons, was the favorite in the game but couldn’t gain any serious separation throughout.
In the opening minutes, both teams fought for early control, which made for a physical contest. Gonzaga went to the line early and often as a result, drawing seven fouls in the first half. The Bulldogs converted 7 of 8 free throws, which made up for their lack of inside presence.
Texas Tech used their size to bully Gonzaga, daring them to get their points from the outside. As a result, Gonzaga had 9 turnovers in the first half. However, the Red Raiders had no answer for Gonzaga forward Rui Hachimura. The potential lottery pick had 13 points in the first half, going 5-of-6 from the line to give the Bulldogs a 37-35 lead at the end of the half.
The second half, on the other hand, was where the Red Raiders woke up. Garrett Culver, who had been a driving force in their win on Thursday, began to show up when they needed him most. With 8 points early in the half, Culver almost kept Texas Tech in the game by himself. Gonzaga didn’t do themselves any favors by continuously turning the ball over, which was uncharacteristic considering they finished first in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.73).
However, it wasn’t Culver that played the hero in this game. That honor went to sophomore guard Davide Moretti, who scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half, including two big free throws with 10 seconds left to give Texas Tech a 73-69 lead.
Not even a millisecond later, Gonzaga forward Jeremy Jones fouled Culver, sending him to the line one final time. Culver, who was named West Regional Most Outstanding Player after the game, made both free throws to put Texas Tech up 6 with 0.9 seconds left, sealing the deal and the Red Raiders’ first trip to the Final Four in school history.
After the game, Hachimura commented on the smothering defense of the Red Raiders.
“They’re one of the greatest defensive teams in the nation, like we’re one of the best offensive teams,” Hachimura said. “They were handsy with the ball. They stole a couple of times from us. That made it difficult…they were guarding inside pretty good.”
Texas Tech guard Matt Mooney (17 pts, 5 assists) brought up how they wanted to slow down Gonzaga and force them to play slow.
“I think, you know, they got us playing their type of basketball in the first half and at halftime we just wanted to slow it down a little bit,” Mooney said. “We don’t want to play slow, you know, but we want to control the tempo and take shots and play March basketball. In the second half we were able to do that.”
Texas Tech head coach Chris Beard, in his fourth season with the team, couldn’t hold back praise for his team and how they persevered through the season.
“I’ll say this about our guys: kind of the story, not 5-star guys, but really good players. We’ve got the MVP of the Big 12 conference (Culver). Matt, Moro (Davide Moretti) and Tariq (Owens) were on the All-Tournament team,” Beard commented. “We don’t mind the underdog chip on the shoulder part of our story, but I think you disrespect our players a little bit.”
“We got really good college players and I think we’re one of the best teams in the country this year.”
After taking some time to soak in this historic moment, Texas Tech will glue themselves closely to Sunday’s East Regional final, where the overall no. 1 seed Duke Blue Devils will face the no. 2 Michigan State Spartans will face off for the right to play the Red Raiders in the Final Four.
Before joining The Ball Out, Chris Bullock was part of SB Nation’s Swish Appeal for nearly three years, covering everything women’s basketball. Chris has had the honor of doing live coverage of the WNBA Finals, the NCAA Tournament, and also was given his own column, “The Triple Double”. A self-described “foodaholic”, Chris lives in the San Diego area with his wife and two daughters, and also hosts his own podcast, “Conscious Cravings”, where he speaks about his experience as a mental health advocate.