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NCAA tournament: Gonzaga sends North Dakota State packing, 86-76

NCAA tournament: Gonzaga turns back North Dakota State, 86-76; will play Iowa next

For Gonzaga, it's on to the next round. For North Dakota State, it's back to the market.

Kyle Wiltjer scored 23 points to lift the second-seeded Bulldogs to an 86-76 victory over the team that lifts weights in an out-of-commission grocery store.

The Zags (33-2) will play Iowa on Sunday to try to make the second weekend of the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.

Sophomore Dexter Werner had a career-high 22 points — all of them entertaining — while keeping North Dakota State within range for much of the game.

The 15th-seeded Bison (23-10), upset winners over Oklahoma as a 12th-seeded team last year, couldn't muster a repeat. Still, it was quite a season for a team that lost three starters and its head coach from last year and had to improvise on things like weight rooms and practice space while their facilities are being overhauled.

Kevin Pangos had 18 points for Gonzaga, which is making its 17th straight NCAA tournament appearance but has gone five straight seasons without a trip to the Sweet 16.

The Zags, cheered on by a big crowd that drove across the state on I-90 to watch, did not get a stress-free warmup game against the Bison.

Lawrence Alexander, who sent last year's Oklahoma game into overtime with a tying three-pointer, had 19 points. That was no big surprise.

But when Werner, the 6-foot-6, 240-pound forward who can dribble and drop the baby hook, started going off in the second half, the game got interesting. Over five minutes, Werner scored nine points — capping it with a twisting, lean-in 17-footer — and drew a charge to help cut a one-time 15-point deficit to six and send the few thousand Bison faithful into a tizzy.

But on the next possession, Werner bumped into Pangos as he was shooting a three-pointer. The shot fell and the four-point play bumped the lead to 10. The Bison didn't threaten again.

Gonzaga shot 51.7%, just a tad under its nation-leading average this season. Overall, Bison coach David Richman's nightmare — that the Bulldogs would produce from both inside and outside — came true.

Pangos, a senior, made four 3-pointers and added five assists without a turnover in his usual sparkling floor game. Gary Bell Jr., a junior, had 17 points.

Both those guards have felt the disappointment in each of Gonzaga's recent first-weekend flameouts, including a drubbing last year at the hands of Arizona and a loss to Wichita State the year before when the Zags were the No. 1 seed.

In Spokane, there's hope this year could be different, in large part thanks to Wiltjer's decision to transfer from Kentucky.

He was money in this one: eight for 12 from the floor, two for three from three-point range and five for five from the line, with eight rebounds.

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