It’s an interesting section on Gonzaga’s basketball schedule and on the calendar.
Two days after falling to UCLA, the Zags cruised past NCAA Division II Saint Martin’s 86-50 before an announced crowd of 6,000 Monday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Now the Zags turn their attention to finals week while trying to mix in a couple of practices to prepare for Tennessee in Saturday’s Battle in Seattle. Gonzaga returns home to open West Coast Conference play against Pepperdine next Monday, followed by Loyola Marymount two days later.
Then it’s a short break for Christmas prior to the Zags’ first conference road trip. That’s a lot of games/studying/holiday merriment /traveling in a condensed time frame.
“We’ve got to give them a little bit of a break but I also told them we have to use it to get better,” said coach Mark Few, whose team dropped out of the latest AP Top 25. “The times are going to be weird when we can get together, either individually or guards, bigs.
“We have a big week starting on Saturday with Tennessee. It’s crazy, and boom-boom we have two league games.”
Gonzaga (7-3) took care of business against the Saints, whose tallest player when 7-foot Eastern Washington University transfer Fred Jorg wasn’t on the floor was 6-foot-6 Brandon Kenilvort or 6-7, 195-pound Jordan Kitchen.
Redshirt freshman wing Bryan Alberts, making his first start, responded by hitting 4 of 5 3-pointers and scoring 14 points.
“You just grow up thinking about that (hearing name announced in starting lineup). For it to actually happen was awesome,” said Alberts, who is 11 of 17 beyond the arc this season. “I think I felt a little more confident because it felt like the guys trusted me to go out and do what I do. The coaches are big on me toeing up on the 3 (point line) and looking for my shot. That’s what I tried to do.”
Forward Domantas Sabonis finished with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Forward Kyle Wiltjer scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, a category Gonzaga held a 47-27 advantage.
“Their size and physicality ended up really hurting us around the rim,” Saints coach Alex Pribble said, “but early in the game I was really, really proud of the way we were performing.”
Gonzaga opened up a 10-point lead after 13 minutes and stretched it to 33-19 on Wiltjer’s three-point play. Saint Martin’s scored the next nine points – including a four-point play when Silas Melson fouled Kitchen on a 3-pointer – to pull within five.
The Zags ended the half with a 9-1 spurt to take a 42-29 lead. GU scored the first six points of the second half and the margin reached 20 on Wiltjer’s 3-pointer with 12:10 remaining. Melson’s steal and dunk put Gonzaga on top 70-39 with 8:18 left.
Melson and Kyle Dranginis snapped out of shooting slumps. Melson broke a 0-of-16 stretch over the last 3-plus games by hitting a mid-range jumper and a 3-pointer en route to nine points. Dranginis, who had made 3 of last 20 shots, connected on all three of his attempts, including one 3-pointer.
“I’m not going to lie, it’s tough but it’s a part of maturing,” Melson said. “You just have to fight through it, stay motivated, stay in the gym and work on your shot and it’ll come.”
Alberts and Melson have four finals before the team departs for Seattle.
“We have tutoring at 9 in morning for a final at noon,” Melson said. “I have four finals, some people have five.”
Point guard Josh Perkins had eight assists. Gonzaga had more assists (14) than turnovers (season-low 9) for the first time since beating Connecticut in the Battle 4 Atlantis.
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