Strong Effort Comes Up Short As Xavier Falls To Zags, 79-75
March 16, 2006
SALT LAKE CITY (AP) - Adam Morrison did just enough to keep Gonzaga from a first-round exit in the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs' mustachioed, mop-topped star scored seven of his 35 points in the final two minutes as Gonzaga rallied past Xavier 79-75 Thursday in the Oakland Regional.
Morrison led the third-seeded Zags on a late 10-2 run, finally overcoming 14th-seeded Xavier. The Musketeers had held off every previous Gonzaga surge, but ultimately they were overrun by the nation's leading scorer.
Morrison was 11-for-21 from the floor and had four assists. J.P. Batista added 18 points and eight rebounds for the Zags (28-3), who are in their eighth straight NCAA tournament.
A magical run of four wins in four days of the Atlantic 10 tournament got Xavier (21-11) into the national field, and that stellar play carried over into the first round of the NCAA.
But the Musketeers ran out of gas at the end against Gonzaga. They couldn't take advantage of Gonzaga's foul troubles and were just 9-for-15 from the line in the second half.
"We set out this year and had three goals; to win a conference championship, to win 20 or more games and to get to the NCAA Tournament," said Xavier head coach Sean Miller. "We got all three. I am here to tell you that the road getting here was really, really difficult."
Stanley Burrell led Xavier with 22 points.
Justin Cage scored 16, Josh Duncan had 11 points and Justin Doellman and Johnny Wolf scored 10 apiece for Xavier, which played the postseason without leading scorer Brian Thornton, who broke his ankle last month.
As Xavier's top player sat behind the bench with crutches at his side, his teammates couldn't stop Morrison.
Morrison, taunted throughout the game by Xavier fans for his retro look and slight 'stache, didn't have a lot of help from his teammates, two of whom fouled out. He and Batista were the only Zags to score in double figures, but they were enough for Gonzaga to win its 19th in a row.
Morrison sealed it on two free throws with 19 seconds left after pulling down a defensive rebound and getting fouled. Morrison was so pumped he slammed the ball against his head three times while screaming something on his way to the free-throw line, where he made both shots to put the Zags up 78-73.
After Xavier made three straight 3-pointers to break a 44-all tie early in the second half, the Bulldogs kept the lead within single digits. Morrison made a 3 to cut it to 59-54 with just under 9 minutes left, then after a free throw by Xavier, Erroll Knight scored on a layup and followed it with a 3-pointer to get Gonzaga within 61-59.
The Musketeers continued to hang onto the lead, although barely at times, until Batista put back Morrison's missed free throw to cut it to 71-69. Then after Batista intercepted a pass in the lane, Morrison hit a 3-pointer with 1:55 left to put Gonzaga ahead for the first time in the half.
Batista was playing with a bruised thigh and sprained knee left over from the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals.