Gonzaga is six more wins away from college basketball immortality.
Norfolk State is one win away from being the answer to a sports trivia question.
Those will be the stakes on the line Saturday in the latest installment of the often lopsided No. 16 versus No. 1 NCAA Tournament matchup.
The Bulldogs, 26-0 and the nation’s top overall seed, opens their tournament run against Norfolk State in a West Region. Gonzaga is seeking to become the first team to finish the season without a loss since Indiana went 32-0 in 1976.
Norfolk State (17-7) is coming off a thrilling 54-53 win over Appalachian State in a First Four meeting Thursday, the program’s first tournament win in nine years.
Spartans head coach Robert Jones understands the challenge of facing the tournament’s lone unblemished team. Gonzaga, once considered a mid-major Cinderella is now, says Jones, “the Lakers of college basketball.”
“I don’t know when I’m going to go to sleep, honestly,” Jones said about preparing for Gonzaga. “I don’t know when the other coaches are going to go to sleep because we usually do scout two days in advance for our players to get familiar with the next opponent.”
Jones drew on the school’s past success in postseason play for possible inspiration against the best team in the country. In 2012, the Spartans — as a No. 15 seed — beat then-No. 2 seed Missouri in what was a classic tournament upset. It was two years ago that Norfolk State beat Alabama in the NIT.
“We’ve been in situations before as a program, with Missouri and Alabama in the NIT and things like that,” said Jones. “And no one gave us a shot, and we were able to come out on top. It’s a whole different animal in Gonzaga, and we understand that, trust me. We understand that. At the same time, as a program we have the two largest victories by point spread in both the NIT and NCAA. So why not do it again?”
Jalen Hawkins, who scored a game-high 24 points in the win over Appalachian State, expressed confidence that the Spartans would not be overwhelmed by this opportunity.
“We’re going to be locked in,” Hawkins said. “Friday night and Saturday night we’re going to be locked in.”
Who: Gonzaga v. Norfolk State
Time: 9:20 p.m. EST
TV/Radio: TBS/Westwood One