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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

TV Take: In offensive showdown, Gonzaga’s defense stepped up when it needed to top Iowa

Dec. 19, 2020 Updated Sat., Dec. 19, 2020 at 9:56 p.m.

Iowa’s Luka Garza shoots a hook shot over Gonzaga’s Drew Timme during the first half of Saturday’s game in Sioux Falls, S.D.  (Associated Press)
Iowa’s Luka Garza shoots a hook shot over Gonzaga’s Drew Timme during the first half of Saturday’s game in Sioux Falls, S.D. (Associated Press)
By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

The top-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs finally appeared on your television again Saturday morning, although it wasn’t against second-ranked Baylor. Nope, it was No. 3 Iowa and the Hawkeyes’ consensus preseason player of the year, Luka Garza.

And CBS was able to show the Zags’ 99-88 victory from the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, something it was set to do before the canceled showdown two weeks ago.

Tom McCarthy was there in Indianapolis, handling the play-by-play. In this one, he was teamed with analyst Clark Kellogg. Neither one, however, was in the arena, broadcasting from a remote location.

What they saw …

The center of attention, literally, was Garza. He finished with 30 points, basically his season average, hitting 13 of 18 shots. But none of them came easily.

“Does Gonzaga play him 1-on-1 throughout the game, as they did there,” Kellogg asked after the game’s first possession, “or will they eventually look to double him and open up to Iowa’s 3-point shots?”

He got his answer right away.

The next possession, Gonzaga doubled Garza with Joel Ayayi, one of many ways the Zags (4-0) tried to confuse the 6-foot-11 senior. But the Hawkeyes (6-1) didn’t seemed fazed. At first.

“These are two really, really outstanding offensive teams,” Kellogg said. “I know both are (hampered) by what they don’t do defensively. Clearly, if either is going to win a (NCAA) championship, the defense is going to have to get better.”

From there, the former Ohio State All-American admitted both offenses are good enough to win most games but, “there are times when your defense is going to have to rise up.”

Like Saturday?

At the time Kellogg made his defensive observation, halfway through the first half, the Zags led 25-24. They turned up the defensive pressure and over the next 6 minutes held Iowa to five points. Powered by Jalen Suggs, GU’s offense kept rolling, scoring 17 points and riding a season-high 10 3-pointers to a 51-37 halftime edge.

• Wonder what the Zags did during their two-week layoff? If the first half was any indication, they worked on their long-range shooting.

Suggs hit five 3-pointers in the first 20 minutes (he finished with 27 points, hitting 7 of 10 3-pointers) while Corey Kispert added three more and 13 points.

• You didn’t think we would get through a game without Suggs’ football history getting a mention, did you? But in this one, McCarthy’s “speaking of football” was actually deserved.

Iowa was one of many schools that recruited the point guard to also play quarterback, something McCarthy noted, along with other Midwest schools.

Kellogg took another tack, however. He talked about Suggs’ past as a defensive back and posited the anticipation he learned breaking on the football and receivers has helped him on basketball’s defensive end. His hands and feet led to a couple of early Iowa turnovers and many fumbled balls throughout the game.

What we saw …

• Let’s start with what we heard. When the game with Baylor was canceled, McCarthy orchestrated the conversation between Mark Few and Baylor coach Scott Drew. During it, he occasionally dropped a slight “Gonzaawga” which only surfaced once or twice.

In this one, it happened a couple of more times, leading to the usual social media “discussion” about the mispronunciation.

• If you wondered about the difference in the whistles, you are not alone.

Many of the second-half calls that put the Gonzaga bigs in foul trouble came from Larry Scirotto, who spends most of his time working Big Ten games. Maybe it was a coincidence, but the cheap second-half fouls on Drew Timme – his third that sent him to the bench with a little less than 11 minutes left – as well as a phantom one against Joel Ayayi that sent Garza to the line for one of his seven free throws, were made by Scirotto.

In the second half, which Gonzaga led by double figures throughout, the Hawkeyes shot 20 free throws while the Zags shot 19, six in the last 63 seconds when Iowa was trying to get them to the line.

After McCarthy noted Gonzaga’s foul trouble with a little more than 6 minutes remaining, Kellogg mentioned it “could be factor.”

With Timme (15 points in 25 minutes) and Kispert (also just 25 minutes) eventually fouling out, it did, but only in the final margin, not the outcome.

• If you wondered where the crowd noise came from, McCarthy explained in the second half each team was allowed 80 friends and family members in attendance.

As Iowa was making its run, you could hear Iowa’s group every time a whistle blew or the Hawkeyes scored. Maybe the less than 6-hour drive allowed all 80 tickets to be used.

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