ANAHEIM, Calif. — Defense wins championships. That’s supposed to apply to football. Texas Tech proved it works in basketball, too.
The Red Raiders used their heralded defense when it counted most to outlast Gonzaga, 75-69, Saturday afternoon at the Honda Center and advance to its first Final Four. The third-seeded Red Raiders (30-6) held the highest-scoring offense in college basketball to 43.1 percent shooting and dominated both ends of the court in the final two minutes to knock off the No.1 seeded Bulldogs.
Jarrett Culver had 19 points and Matt Mooney added 17 for Texas Tech, which also struggled from the field shooting 43.9 percent. The Red Raiders defense generated 16 turnovers to help overcome being out-rebounded 37-29. Gonzaga, trying to go to the Final Four for the second time in three years, got 22 points from Rui Hachimura and ends its season at 33-4.
The West Region final was a collision of the best offense in college basketball against arguably the best defense. Would Gonzaga, a team that averaged 88 points a game during a season where the Zags ran nearly every team out of the gym, solve a Texas Tech defensive web that had limited opponents to 36.5 percent shooting and 58.7 points per game?
Compared to Michigan, which needed 15 minutes to score 10 points against Texas Tech on Thursday night, Gonzaga got off to a fast start. Hachimura scored seven of the Zags first nine points to break a sweat. But Texas Tech’s defense showed up. It would force nine first half turnovers, and make Gonzaga work hard for any scoring opportunity.
Yet, Gonzaga managed to own a 37-35 lead at halftime, partly because the Zags out-rebounded Texas Tech 20-10 and also because they took advantage of their opportunities in transition. Gonzaga was able to score 11 points in transition. The easy buckets helped them convert 50 percent of their field goals in the first half, while Texas Tech made 43.3 percent. Overall, the tempo was played in Gonzaga’s favor, something Texas Tech tried to correct in the second half.
But if anything, the game got more frenetic in the second half and as both teams tried to make the most out of every possession. Hachimura was a monstrous presence for Gonzaga. He made a short jumper to give the Zags a 41-37 lead and later converted a driving layup to keep Gonzaga ahead 48-44.
But Texas Tech kept pace. A 3-pointer by Culver, a lay-up by Davide Moretti, a driving bucket by Brandone Francis and a lay-in by former St. John’s forward Tariq Owens put completed a 9-2 run that put the Red Raiders up 53-50 with 10:30 left in the game.
Gonzaga, which led the nation in scoring margin at 23.6, said it would be ready for a low-scoring game and have the patience not to become frustrated deal with Texas Tech’s defense. But that proved easier said than done.
The Zags struggled for points as Hachimura was called for a charging and Corey Kispert had his shot blocked as Texas Tech edged to a 56-52 advantage. But soon it was tied at 58 after Josh Perkins splashed a 3-pointer from the top of the key and it was clear it would be a fight to the finish.
There would be several highlight moments in the final seconds. Owens’ blocking Hachimura 3-pointer from the corner. Perkins swishing a running 3 that cut Texas Tech’s lead to 69-67. But free throws by Mooney, Moretti — after a technical foul called when Perkins reached in on the Mooney the inbounder — and Culver ruined Gonzaga’s chance to reach the Final Four.