MEMPHIS — Oddsmakers have made Gonzaga an 8-point underdog against North Carolina in Friday’s South Regional semifinal game in the FedEx Forum.
That fact has not escaped the attention of the Bulldog players. Among the final 16 teams, only Arizona against Louisville is considered more of a long shot to advance.
“It’s kind of nice to be the underdog,” said Zags senior center Josh Heytvelt. “Most of the season, we’ve had the bull’s eye on our back ... There’s just a lot of hype for Carolina. Their fans don’t expect anything less than a championship from those guys.”
When the two teams last met, Gonzaga took an 82-74 win in the Preseason NIT during the 2006-07 season. Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough’s performance in that game (9 points, 9 rebounds, 3 turnovers) was one of his least productive ever. It was due largely to the defensive work of the 6-11, 260-pound Heytvelt, who thinks that experience could work in his favor Friday.
“I had to go into that game with a chip on my shoulder,” Heytvelt said. “You have to make up your mind to match his intensity out there. That gave some confidence, but it’ll take even more this time.”
The Zags aren’t about to back down on the point guard issue, either.
Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn and Carolina’s Ty Lawson are among the top two rated playmakers in the country, and Oklahoma freshman Willie Warren, who averages 14.7 points, sometimes mans the point for his team. But Gonzaga senior Jeremy Pargo (10.1 ppg, 5.0 assists) has plenty of fans.
“It’s for sure I wouldn’t trade him for any of the other point guards here, and I know there are some great ones,” said teammate Matt Bouldin. “We’ve played [against Lawson and Flynn]. I would not make that trade for Jeremy.”
Bulldog coach Mark Few was a little less bold when talking about the Lawson vs. Pargo match. At 220 pounds, Pargo still has plenty of quickness. But in good health, the 195-pound Lawson usually covers floor space in split-seconds.
“That speed at which Lawson can play is something that we really have to be concerned about,” Few said. “Lots of good teams and players have tried to deal with him, but not very many have had that much success.”-- Caulton Tudor