Bison and Bulldogs get together in South Regional fracas

Mar 20, 2015 - 2:44 PM Seattle, WA ( - The NCAA Tournament's South Region wraps up its slate of second-round games Friday when the 15th-seeded North Dakota State Bison clash with the second-seeded Gonzaga Bulldogs at Key Arena.

The winner advances to the third round and will play either the seventh-seeded Iowa Hawkeyes or the 10th-seeded Davidson Wildcats.

North Dakota State earned the Summit League's automatic bid into the tournament with a victory over rival South Dakota State, 57-56, in the league championship game. The Bison are appearing in their third tournament all-time, and would like to duplicate last year's success by pulling off a huge first- round upset.

However, Gonzaga has a different idea. The Zags are perennially a powerhouse, yet generally overlooked because playing in the West Coast Conference isn't considered as prestigious. But this year the Bulldogs may have what it takes after winning the WCC title over BYU, 91-75. The Zags are playing in their 18th NCAA Tournament, and own a record of 19-17 in the event all-time.

The Bison and Bulldogs have met just once in history. Gonzaga took a 74-70 victory over North Dakota State back in the 1956 campaign.

North Dakota State and South Dakota State engaged in a highly contentious battle in the Summit League title bout, as both teams went into halftime knotted at 23-23. The Bison pulled ahead down the stretch, but let the Jackrabbits back in it with time winding down. But NDSU was able to keep a one-point advantage over the Jackrabbits, who came up just short. Summit League Player of the Year Lawrence Alexander netted 25 points to pace the Bison, while A.J. Jacobson tallied 12 points with eight rebounds in the tight victory.

Alexander finished atop the Summit League scoring chart, which helped earn him the Player of the Year distinction. He enters the game against Gonzaga averaging 18.9 ppg on 42.8 percent shooting, adding in an 81-percent touch from the free-throw line. Jacobson chips in with 11.9 ppg as the only other NDSU player averaging a double-digit scoring mark. North Dakota State has prided itself on defense this entire season, and will need that defense (which allows a mere 61.6 ppg to opponents) to step up against an immensely talented Gonzaga offense.

After falling to BYU in the regular-season finale, Gonzaga was able to exact revenge on the Cougars in a big way in the WCC title game. The Zags held BYU to 40.3 percent shooting, and netted 53.7 percent of their own field goal attempts to run away in the 16-point victory. Six players scored in double figures for the Bulldogs in the win, led by a huge double-double from Kentucky transfer Kyle Wiltjer, who tallied 18 points with 10 rebounds. Kevin Pangos chipped in with 16 points, and both Gary Bell Jr. and Domantas Sabonis added 15 apiece for the Zags.

Gonzaga's offense is the pride of the team. The Zags are ranked first in field goal shooting in the nation at 52.4 percent, and rank No. 5 in assist-to- turnover ratio (1.56), No. 6 in assists per game (16.5) and No. 9 in scoring offense (79.1 ppg). Wiltjer leads the squad heading into Friday's matchup netting 16.7 ppg, followed by Pangos (11.5 ppg), Przemek Karnowski (11.0 ppg) and Byron Wesley (10.8 ppg), who round out the large group of Zags in double- digit scoring. But offense isn't the only thing the Bulldogs are good at. The team is limiting opponents to a mere 60.9 ppg on 38.4 percent shooting defensively.

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