Gonzaga forward Brandon Clarke rolled toward the basket, anticipating a lob pass from guard Geno Crandall.
The play developed perfectly, except for this unscripted outcome: The ball went into the basket.
Ultimately, Crandall's accidental shot in the first half Saturday night may have cost a Clarke a career scoring high, as he matched his best-ever total with 36 points in the Bulldogs' 83-71 victory over Baylor in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at Vivint Smart Home Arena.
That's OK, because the Bulldogs got three points out of Crandall's pass, rather than two for the planned dunk by Clarke. That's how the first half went for Gonzaga. The Bulldogs unintentionally made a 3-pointer and Baylor, the team that thrives by making 3s, went 1 of 10.
“It's something we practice all the time,” Crandall said. “It's like a little misdirection. Make people think [Clarke's] going to dunk it like he always does, and I just throw it in the net.”
Crandall was kidding, but this part is true: The Bulldogs know exactly where they're headed. No. 1-seeded Gonzaga (32-3) will play No. 4 Florida State on Thursday in West Region semifinals at Anaheim, Calif., appearing in a fifth straight Sweet 16.
GONZAGA 83, BAYLOR 71
• Gonzaga holds Baylor to 1-of-10 shooting from 3-point range in the first half of an 83-71 victory in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
• For the second time in three seasons, Gonzaga advances from Vivint Smart Home Arena to the Sweet 16.
• Former Utah assistant coach Donny Daniels makes the Sweet 16 for a 12th time – including five years in a row with Gonzaga, after four trips with Utah and three with UCLA.
Not even Baylor's scoring the first 10 points of the second half could deter the Bulldogs. Baylor quickly got within five points, but Gonzaga responded. Clark scored six straight points via a jump shot, a dunk and two free throws and the Bulldogs never were seriously threatened again.
A transfer from San Jose State, Clarke once scored 36 points against Air Force in a Mountain West game. This was a slightly bigger stage, and he became a star in Salt Lake City. “There’s a reason he’s on the [NBA] draft board,” said Baylor coach Scott Drew. “That’s what makes Gonzaga really good. It’s like plugging holes in a dam; you can plug three the fourth one gets you. And the biggest stat was he drew nine fouls on the people guarding him.”
Tristan Clark's foul trouble hurt Baylor, as Drew tried to play a smaller lineup. In addition to his 36 points on 15-of-18 shooting, Clarke posted eight rebounds, five blocked shots and two steals.
“You don't necessarily need to call any plays for him, and he can impact the game,” said teammate Josh Perkins. “He catches lobs and rolls and gets offensive rebounds. But when you do give him the ball in the post, he's got one of the best field-goal percentages [.692] in college basketball. He's Mr. Efficient, I guess is what you could call him. … Yeah, we fed the beast and the beast is still hungry, so just keep feeding him.”
That sounds like good strategy in a Sweet 16 rematch with Florida State, after the Seminoles upset Gonzaga last March in Los Angeles.
On the other end, Gonzaga took away Baylor’s biggest weapon. The Bears had made 16 3-pointers in a first-round win over Syracuse, including six shots prior to the first media timeout. Saturday was another story. Baylor finished 4 of 21 from 3-point range, even while hitting two in a row to begin the second half.