The school records Gonzaga set in a Dec. 21 rout over Denver remain on the books, but they were in serious jeopardy Friday.
No. 7 Gonzaga opened up against North Alabama with a run that just kept going. It lasted most of the first half and produced basketball scores rarely seen, such as 29-1, 35-3 and 47-6.
The Zags’ foot slipped off the gas pedal late in the half and for part of the second half, but they still coasted to a 96-51 victory over the Lions in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
There’s a reason most national powers schedule these so-called ‘guarantee games’ near the holidays. Players have just returned from their first extended break of the season, crowd noise is muffled without the students and the conference slate is fast approaching.
The home team typically picks up an easy win. The visitors collect a few lumps and a sizable paycheck, in the neighborhood of $100,000 for North Alabama, big money for a program in the first season of a four-year transition to Division I.
The Zags are 3-0 with an averaging winning margin of 46.7 points in this stretch of four nonconference home games that concludes with CSU Bakersfield’s visit Monday.
“That’s what it is for,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We hope to be spending a little more time on ourselves, but the main thing is getting the guys some rest, and that’s what we did over the break. Now we’re building, moving forward.”
Gonzaga (12-2) picked up where it left off in a 101-40 beatdown against Denver that set program records for shooting percentage in a half (84.6) and margin of victory.
The record for shooting percentage was fairly safe, but the margin of victory looked like it might last all of one game. Gonzaga led by 41 late in the half.
“We’re focused on ourselves,” senior point guard Josh Perkins said. “A lot of times it doesn’t matter who you play, you have to get better. We’re taking these games to execute the scouting report and short prep like you have to do in the (NCAA) tournament. We’re trying to get our defense where it needs to be.”
North Alabama (3-11) cut the deficit to 48-14 at half. The Lions kept battling at the outset of the second half, trimming Gonzaga’s lead to 28 before the Zags stretched it back into the 40s.
“For coming off a break, especially that starting group did a great job of dictating what we wanted them to do at both ends of the floor,” Few said. “That was a good 20 minutes of basketball there.”
The Lions didn’t make a field goal until 12:09 remained. By then, they trailed by 28. Their next basket came with 8:20 left and their fourth was with 3:58 remaining.
UNA shot 18.5 percent from the field and committed 10 turnovers in the opening half.
“I feel like once we get a couple (defensive stops) in a row, we turn it up even more,” Perkins said. “We feed off that. When it happens like that so often and the shots start coming on offense, it starts becoming fun. That’s when we’re our most scary.”
Gonzaga junior forward Rui Hachimura extended his streak of made field goals to 16 – spanning to his last three shots against UT Arlington on Dec. 18 – before missing a shot. Brandon Clarke stuffed the stat sheet with 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, 12 rebounds, four blocks, three steals and two assists.
All five starters were in double figures, led by Zach Norvell Jr.’s 20 points and five assists.
The Zags made 54 percent from the field, but the offense probably took a backseat to the defense. North Alabama heated up some in the second half after the outcome had been decided. The Zags’ top defensive efforts by points allowed have come in the last three games against UT Arlington (55), Denver (40) and UNA (51).
“We were very good with our coverages, talking and rim protection,” Few said. “And obviously very efficient again on the offensive end.”
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