SAN JOSE, Calif. — Jordan Mathews, a graduate transfer from Cal who went to summer school with the hope of playing in the NCAA championship game, kept that dream alive Thursday night for himself and Gonzaga.
With the top-seeded Zags trailing fourth-seeded West Virginia, Mathews connected on a wide-open three-pointer from the left wing with 57 seconds left to give Gonzaga the lead for good in a 61-58 win.
“I thought, ‘Why not?’ ” said Mathews, who had come in only 10 seconds earlier after being on the bench with four fouls. “Let it go, and it went down.”
And Gonzaga (35-1) went on to the West Regional final Saturday night against 11th-seeded Xavier.
“Our focus forever has been Phoenix,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, alluding to the Final Four the following weekend in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.
West Virginia (28-9) had three shots to tie on the final possession, but Tarik Phillip missed a shot from the lane and Jevon Carter missed two three-pointers.
That West Virginia even was in the game was because of the stubborn defense and rebounding of the Mountaineers, who trailed most of the way and were behind by eight early in the second half.
“It was tough playing against a team that tall,” West Virginia coach Bob Huggins said about a Gonzaga team with three 7-footers and another player 6-10.
And yet the Mountaineers had 41 rebounds to 34 for the Zags. What ruined West Virginia’s chance for an upset was miserable shooting, partially because of the Gonzaga defense. West Virginia shot only 26.7 percent, 22.0 percent in the first half.
Carter scored 21 for West Virginia, but nobody else on his team had more than nine. Mathews, Johnathan Williams and Przemek Karnowski, the bulky, bearded center from Poland, had 13 each for the Zags.
A controversial and lengthy video review took place late in the game. West Virginia’s Nathan Adrian flipped a ball back as he flew out of bounds with just under two minutes to play and Gonzaga ahead 58-55. Officials spent four to five minutes studying the replays before determining Adrian was in the air, not on the ground. West Virginia got the ball and made a tying three-pointer.
The 61 points were the fewest Gonzaga scored in any game this season.
“They play very good defense,” Few said of WVU. “We had to work for our shots.”
Huggins said he worried about Gonzaga’s size, with the Zags starting the 7-1 Karnowski and then bringing in 7-1 Ryan Edwards and 7-footer Zach Collins. So the Mountaineers had to fling up wild shots from the outside, and they hit only two of the first 11.
“It was hard,” Huggins said of trying to run an offense. “But you tell me how many teams in the country can shoot 26 percent from the field against the No. 1 seed and still should have won?”
That may be overstated. “Could have won’’ is more accurate. But teams that reach the Final Four usually have one game in the tournament they might have lost but won.
“All year,” Few said, “we’ve been banking on our defense. Our defense stepped up and got it done.”