At halftime during Saturday’s game against Pacific I looked across Gonzaga’s box score and something stood out. A player, first name starting with “J”, was approaching a triple-double.
Two weeks ago, on January 9 against Portland, Joel Ayayi recorded Gonzaga’s first triple-double in program history with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists. Ayayi had come tantalizingly close in a number of games prior to that, so it makes sense that he’d come tantalizingly close, if not accomplish it outright, at least once more. He wasn’t the player whose name starts with “J” who was closing in on it this past Saturday, though.
That player, on that night, happened to be Jalen Suggs, who finished the game with 11 rebounds, 9 points and 8 assists. Frustratingly close to a triple-double; so close to what would have been just the second triple-double in program history … merely two weeks after the first.
For two years now we’ve been waiting for Ayayi to pull off what he finally did just a fortnight ago, something no one had ever done prior in a Gonzaga uniform, and two weeks later we almost saw it happen again. This past Saturday though, it was someone else. As if we needed another reason to recognize just how absurdly loaded with talent this season’s Gonzaga team happens to be.
“I don’t usually get into that but we were trying and he was trying too hard actually, and the guys were trying probably a little too hard too,” head coach Mark Few said after the game of the effort to get Suggs to a triple-double. “Any time you're doing that, just like Joel [Ayayi], man you’re impacting the game.”
Regardless of the effort that it took, Suggs was within striking distance of a triple-double before the game went to halftime. And it’s important to note that he accomplished that against a very solid team in the Pacific Tigers.
Pacific is 130th in statistician Ken Pomeroy’s rankings, which puts them well above average nationally. The Tigers may not have the pedigree of a power conference team, but at least in KenPom’s rankings they’re ahead of the only power conference team in our region, Washington State, which ranks at No. 136. Which is to say, they’re no slouch. Gonzaga won by 46 points and nearly achieved something they hadn’t ever done just two weeks prior. There have been countless teams in Gonzaga history that could have defeated a team of that level by that margin. But how many could do it with a player coming this close to recording a triple double while also being fifth on the team in scoring?
Suggs finished with nine points. Freshman Dominick Harris scored 11 off the bench, Ayayi scored 12, Corey Kispert poured in 16 and Drew Timme led all scorers with 22. It’s an embarrassment of riches against a team which is by no means an embarrassment of an opponent. Pacific head coach Damon Stoudamire, a decorated NBA veteran, is in fact the reigning WCC coach of the year. And yet, the player who dominates this story is the one who was tied for fifth in the scoring column (Andrew Nembhard also scored nine points for the Zags).
How do you stop this team? It might not be possible.
Gonzaga heads south to take on San Diego Thursday at 6 p.m. (KHQ) before travelling up the Pacific Coast Highway to visit Pepperdine January 30 at 5 p.m. (ESPN2).