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Balanced approach tips scales in GU’s favor

Guard Jordan Mathews (4) topped Gonzaga’s scoring against San Diego State  on Nov. 14. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)
Guard Jordan Mathews (4) topped Gonzaga’s scoring against San Diego State on Nov. 14. (Young Kwak / Associated Press)

Nigel Williams-Goss led Gonzaga in scoring against Iowa State on Sunday because, well, it was probably his turn.

The eighth-ranked Zags are unbeaten in six games. They’ve been led by a different scorer in every game and it’s a pretty safe bet that few, if any, teams across the country can say the same.

Of the eight players in Gonzaga’s primary rotation, seven have already been at the top of the scoring column. There are seven in six games because Johnathan Williams and Zach Collins each had 13 points to lead the way against Quinnipiac in the AdvoCare Invitational opener in Orlando.

In game order, GU has been led by Silas Melson (17 vs. Utah Valley), Jordan Mathews (17 vs. San Diego State), Przemek Karnowski (22 vs. Bryant), Williams and Collins (13 vs. Quinnipiac), Josh Perkins (18 vs. Florida) and Williams-Goss (18 vs. Iowa State).

That’s four guards/wings and three forwards/posts.

“We definitely wanted to play inside-out, give our bigs touches,” tournament MVP Williams-Goss said. “They did a great job kicking it out when they were double-teamed. As guards we have to stay ready on the 3-point line, either catch-and-shoot or drive.”

The balanced production makes it tougher for opposing defenses to zero in on one or two players. That was the case most of last season when Kyle Wiltjer (20.4 points per game) and Domantas Sabonis (17.6) carried the scoring burden.

The balance also gives the Zags some options when a key player or two is saddled with foul trouble or is simply experiencing an off night.

Gonzaga, which returns home to face Mississippi Valley State on Thursday, relied on 40 points in the paint, 18 free throws and 12 second-chance points to offset 27-percent 3-point shooting against Quinnipiac.

Guards contributed 48 of the team’s 77 points and the Zags survived three players fouling out against Florida.

“It caused us difficulties, but of any of the recent teams we’ve had this one can probably absorb it as well as any,” GU head coach Mark Few said of losing Karnowski, Williams-Goss and Killian Tillie to fouls. “We’re deep and somewhat balanced.

“We didn’t get to play Przemek as much we’d like. He’s kind of a calming influence on the offensive end and obviously when you lose Nigel, he’s so rock solid, that was a blow.”

The back court scored 37 points and the front court delivered 36 against Iowa State. Gonzaga made a tournament record 13 3-pointers, including six by Williams-Goss and one each by Tillie, Collins and Williams.

Few, in his own words, stays away from “sweeping generalizations,” especially early in the season, but he’s said since the beginning of fall practice that the Zags have depth, balance and not much separation among its the top players.

The balance doesn’t just apply to scoring. Tillie grabbed a team-high six rebounds against Florida and seven others had at least three. Six players have led in steals in a game. Seven players have led in blocked shots.

The season stats paint a similar picture. Five players are averaging in double figures, led by Williams-Goss at 12.8. Perkins was the team’s leading scorer after five games. It was Collins after four games, Karnowski after three, Mathews after two and Melson after one.


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