Zach Norvell Jr. is immersed in Gonzaga’s season, but a smile forms when asked if he has fond memories of last year’s Creighton game.
“A little bit,” said Norvell, awaiting the rematch with the Bluejays on Saturday in Omaha, Nebraska. “I think it’s where the whole thing all started, you could say.”
Almost a year ago to the day, Norvell was a promising redshirt freshman coming off Gonzaga’s bench and averaging 18.1 minutes per game.
Then Creighton happened. Half of the Creighton game, anyway.
Norvell, making his first start due to Corey Kispert’s ankle injury, promptly went scoreless in the first half and misfired on all five of his 3-point attempts.
The 6-foot-5 wing from Chicago missed another 3 early in the second half, but he finally scored in transition and again on a drive to the basket, drawing a foul. But coach Mark Few had seen enough and had Jeremy Jones waiting at the scorer’s table to check in for Norvell.
Norvell, an 80-percent free-throw shooter, clanked the freebie.
“The old Adam Morrison trick, missing the free throw,” cracked Few, implying that the missed shot kept the clock running and eliminated the opportunity to substitute. “Then he got another layup and I pulled Jeremy back because he was rolling.”
Norvell rolled up 21 points in the second half, the first glimpse at his unshakable confidence, as the Zags rallied from a 44-37 halftime deficit for a 91-74 victory. He followed it up with 22 points against Villanova in Madison Square Garden, 21 on the road against Washington and 19 versus visiting North Dakota.
He started 29 of GU’s last 30 games – walk-on Brian Pete got the nod on Senior Night – and delivered many clutch shots en route to West Coast Conference newcomer of the year honors.
Norvell has carried the momentum into this season. He leads Gonzaga in 3-pointers (22) and ranks second in minutes (29.3), scoring (17.3), rebounding (5.6), assists (3.7) and steals (1.6). Norvell is joined in the starting lineup by Kispert, who has been solid while contributing 9.0 points and 4.4 rebounds.
“The two wings have done a great job,” Few said. “Great decisions, shot it well, spaced the floor and even rebounded well.”
Norvell expects the Bluejays will have revenge on their minds Saturday in front of 17,000-plus at Chi Health Center in Omaha.
“As a kid, you dream of playing in big arenas like that, and I like playing away,” he said. “We’re just as anxious to go at them. Having that X on our back (as the No. 1-ranked team), everybody has been coming into practice locked in and ready to go.”
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