It’s still technically winter break at Gonzaga, but a date with arch-rival Saint Mary’s drew the Kennel Club back to campus a few days before classes start up this week.
After a string of games in front of docile crowds for the holiday break, the students showed a national television audience just how electric this building can be, even in a blowout.
And that youthful energy powered the fifth-ranked Zags to a 17-0 record by dispatching the 21st ranked Gaels 79-56.
“We know it’s the toughest game on the schedule,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said of the annual trip to Gonzaga.
That tough atmosphere came into play in the Zags favor over the final minutes of the first half. After a string of lackluster defensive possessions, Mark Few had his team employ a trap on a Saint Mary’s inbounds play. It frustrated the Gaels and the ball ended up with Johnathan Williams near half court. The junior forward took it to the basket for a thunderous dunk that sent the Kennel into a frenzy.
The building kept rocking as the Zags followed that by forcing a shot clock violation.
Saint Mary’s likes to play slow on the offensive end, with their possessions this season lasting an average of 20 seconds. But if they last 30 ticks, they're served with a violation. Gonzaga’s defense frustrated the Gaels all night, blocking six shots and forcing nine turnovers.
On the offensive end, Nigel Williams-Goss led the way with a game-high 19 points and six assists. Jordan Mathews (16 points), Johnathan Williams (14 points) and Zach Collins (10 points) also scored in double figures. Most impressively, however, was the Zags' shooting touch tonight.
Of the eight Bulldogs who saw game action before garbage time, only Przemek Karnowski (nine points) shot below 50 percent from the field. Overall, Gonzaga went 65 percent from the field Saturday. And that happened against a strong defense.
Saint Mary’s gave up 56.6 points per game over their first 16 contests this season. The hot shooting Zags needed just 31 minutes to pass that mark.
Gaels’ junior center Jock Landale, an all-America candidate averaging 17.8 points per game, was held to just 10 tonight. The big Aussie went into foul trouble early in the first half, and again in the second, before fouling out of the game late.
When he picked up his fifth and final foul a full throated Kennel Club let a chant rain down on the Gael, “na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye.
If you felt the need to question your vision or adjust your television set during Friday night's Gonzaga vs. Bryant game, you were not alone.
For this to be simply a game between the Bulldogs and the Bulldogs would not be enough confusion, so both teams decided to not look their assigned part as well. Gonzaga, the Bulldogs ranked No. 14 in the polls, ditched their home whites in favor of turquoise jerseys. Bryant, the Bulldogs who have spent less than a decade playing at the Division I level, played better than any opponent Gonzaga has faced so far this season.
But in the end everything looked right and was easily explained. Gonzaga won big, 109-70, and the uniforms weren’t worn by accident.
Like they did in last season’s game against Northern Arizona, the Zags wore these special jerseys to help celebrate Native American Heritage Month. In Native American cultures, turquoise symbolizes friendship and fellowship.
As for the game, Gonzaga’s big men were absolutely dominant. Przemek Karnowski (22 points, 8 rebounds) overwhelmed the Bryant bigs. And Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams (20 points, 8 rebounds) who had struggled in his first two games this season had the breakout performance we had all been waiting for.
Gonzaga out-rebounded Bryant 39-34, despite Killian Tillie grabbing just two boards and fellow freshman phenom Zach Collins fouling out of the game.
The only real concern for the Zags was that historical weakness of theirs: three point defense. Bryant hit seven of 15 shots from distance.
In the second half though, it was Gonzaga that lit it up from long range. Josh Perkins (18 points) hit all four of his three pointers after halftime. Despite not starting, Perkins led the team with 28 minutes played. Going forward it will be interesting to see how much longer Mark Few keeps the sophomore guard out of the starting five. Perkins was suspended for the season opener as part of punishment stemming from being arrest for physical control of a vehicle while under the influence back in October. His relegation to the bench seems likely to be a continuation of that punishment.
Tonight saw starting guards Silas Melson (3 points) and Jordan Mathews (0 points) record season lows in scoring, which was another interesting development.
In other news, we just saw that the Gonzaga women knocked off No. 11 Stanford down in Palo Alto 68-63. Sophomore Jill Barta had 26 points in the big win that takes the Zags to 3-0 on the season.
It might not have that certain something that the phrase March Madness does, but we’re experiencing some pleasant November normality here in Zag nation. After Friday’s 92-69 victory over Utah Valley, the Zags are now a perfect 13-0 in season-openers at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
For fans of the No. 13 ranked Bulldogs the night went about as well as possible. Newcomers like UW transfer Nigel Williams-Goss (14 points, eight rebounds, six assists) and Cal transfer Jordan Mathews (15 points, 4-7 from three) showed why they landed on preseason award watch lists. Yet for a team filled with fresh faces, it was the two veterans who led the way.
Junior guard Silas Melson was the team’s leading scorer with 17 points. Przemek Karnowski (14 points, seven rebounds) looked no worse for the wear after last season’s back injury. Early in the second half, the senior center sent the crowd into a fury with a dunk on one end of the court, followed by a batted pass and a rebound on the other.
“We’re going to go in and try to score 200 points,” Utah Valley head coach Mark Pope said before the game. And while he may be disappointed his team failed miserably in that regard, he can at least be happy that one of his players led the game in scoring: sophomore guard Conner Toolson
had 19 points.
It should be noted that coach Pope was formerly an assistant at Gonzaga’s run-and-gun conference rival BYU. So perhaps that’s why this was such an uptempo game. Gonzaga played 81 possessions against Utah Valley, three more than they did in any non-overtime game last season.
Freshman Killian Tillie had an impressive debut, falling one point and one rebound shy of a double-double in just 20 minutes played. Fellow freshmen Zach Collins (9 points, four rebounds) and Rui Hachimura (four points) played less than Tillie, but both looked comfortable in their collegiate debuts.
Any questions about how all these newcomers would mesh with the Bulldogs’ system — just three guys who played here last season saw meaningful minutes tonight — were largely answered with a resounding victory to open the season.
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Refreshing to see a pure report without any agenda or opinion. Thank you!