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Gonzaga Basketball

Analysis: Chemistry helps No. 1 Gonzaga shake off rust in 99-88 win over No. 3 Iowa

Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs, who finished 7 of 10 from long range and scored a team-high 27 points Saturday, shoots a 3-pointer against Iowa.  (Associated Press)

The box score will reflect Jalen Suggs drilling seven 3-pointers, Joel Ayayi seemingly collecting every rebound, 18 in all, and Gonzaga’s offense rolling again, despite 17 days between games.

Those were the main reasons why No. 1 Gonzaga ran past No. 3 Iowa 99-88 Saturday at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

But the box score doesn’t include a column showing Suggs in the gym alone, working on his perimeter shot with COVID-19 issues limiting the Zags to only a couple of full-squad practices since the cancellation of the Dec. 5 game against Baylor.

And it doesn’t have a category recognizing team chemistry, which Suggs and coach Mark Few pointed to as a major contributor to Gonzaga’s latest offensive clinic.

“It was a pretty challenging two weeks,” Suggs said. “One thing we did really well is we all stayed in contact and stayed level-headed. We knew we’d get through it and we’d play again.

“We have such great team chemistry, it’s really hard to lose that with how close we are and how much confidence we have in each other. We don’t care who scores. When we play together as a unit, we’re really hard to stop.”

It took about 5 minutes for Gonzaga (4-0) to shake off most of the rust from an extended layoff, but it revisited from time to time in the form of fatigue, especially in the second half, and unforced turnovers.

Still, with Suggs leading the way, Gonzaga led 51-37 at half and extended it to 72-52 with 13:15 remaining. The Zags were never seriously threatened, despite heavy foul trouble and problems making free throws.

“It just shows the type of competitors they are, the type of character they have,” Few said. “I was banking on that. If you saw practice our first day back, the staff needed to wear catcher’s masks. The balls were flying around all over the place.

“This game scared the heck out of me. I’m immensely proud of how my guys responded because it was a tough two weeks. I think it shows their feel for the game, their basketball intelligence and also how much they like playing together.”

That was evident throughout, including the defining stretch of the first half. The Zags had four early turnovers, but once they settled down they hit top speed in transition and added another element – 3-point accuracy – that had been missing in the first three games.

The Hawkeyes (6-1) couldn’t keep up. They couldn’t slow down GU in the open court and they lost track of shooters on the perimeter.

The Zags jumped in front 38-24 with a 13-0 spurt. First, Suggs fed Drew Timme for a layup. Suggs followed with a free throw, then had his shot rejected in the paint. Unfazed, he ended up with the ball on the wing and canned a step-back 3-pointer. He finished off the run with another 3-pointer.

A few minutes later, Suggs scrapped for a loose ball in traffic, earning an extra possession that ended with Aaron Cook’s 3-ball.

Suggs finished 7 of 10 beyond the arc. He grabbed seven rebounds, four assists, three steals and one acrobatic block, easily outweighing seven turnovers.

“This game was a really good learning experience,” Suggs said. “I had a couple talks with coach (Few) just about slowing down, keeping it simple. At times when I tried to force it and tried to do too much, that’s when I start to have trouble.

“The simple things often can have the biggest impact. They might not always be as flashy, but it’s a bottom-line industry and we get two points on the board.”

Gonzaga’s defense was a factor in the 13-0 first-half run and did a creditable job on Iowa center Luka Garza. The Zags made the big man work for his buckets. He essentially hit his averages with 30 points on 13-of-18 shooting and 10 rebounds.

Garza didn’t get much help from his teammates. The Hawkeyes, seventh nationally in made 3-pointers per game, were just 4 of 22 on 3s, 14 of 26 on free throws and got pounded on the boards (49-37).

“They mixed it up, doubling (Garza) on the dibble, on the catch,” said Iowa wing Joe Wieskamp, who had 20 points and three 3-pointers. “It’s the defensive end where we need to improve. They were getting out in transition too much. They were having it at will, really.”

Ayayi finished with 11 points and six assists. Timme (15 points) and Corey Kispert (13 points, six assists) fouled out in the closing minutes. Anton Watson played much of the second half with four fouls. Andrew Nembhard contributed 13 points and five boards. Cook added nine points, including a big 3-pointer with 6:35 left after Iowa pulled within 83-74.

GU, which made 16 3-pointers in its first three games, was 13 of 26 from distance.