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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

No. 1 Gonzaga opens home schedule with back-to-back games vs. Northwestern State

Dec. 20, 2020 Updated Sun., Dec. 20, 2020 at 10:16 p.m.

Gonzaga’s Drew Timme shoots over Iowa’s Luka Garza (55) during the second half Saturday.  (Associated Press)
Gonzaga’s Drew Timme shoots over Iowa’s Luka Garza (55) during the second half Saturday. (Associated Press)

Top-ranked Gonzaga traveled to Florida, Indiana and South Dakota to play its first four games.

The Zags will be able to walk to their next two contests.

Gonzaga’s delayed home opener finally arrives Monday against Northwestern State. GU announced Sunday that the teams have agreed to play Tuesday, too.

Both games tip at 6 p.m. and will be televised on KHQ and Root Sports. Fans and family members aren’t allowed inside the McCarthey Athletic Center due to COVID-19 protocols.

Gonzaga’s home opener slated for Dec. 8 against Tarleton State was called off, along with three additional home dates, in response to COVID concerns.

Here’s a quick look at Northwestern State and another look back at the Zags’ 99-88 victory over No. 3 Iowa on Saturday.

Early struggles bedevil Demons

It’s been a rough start for Northwestern State, based in Natchitoches, Louisiana. The Demons, picked 10th in the 13-team Southland Conference, are 1-7.

Five of those losses have been road games, including Friday’s 82-55 loss at Tulsa and Saturday’s 94-67 blowout at Missouri State. It doesn’t get any easier for the Demons, who are 38.5-point underdogs against GU, according to Circa Sportsbook.

Trenton Massner, a 6-foot-2 junior guard, leads Northwestern State at 11.7 points per game. Senior guard Jairus Roberson is next at 10.8 points with a team-high 20 3-pointers. Jamaure Gregg, a 6-7 senior forward, averages 10.6 points and 5.5 rebounds.

The Demons visit Washington State on Wednesday, meaning they’ll play five games in six days.

Suggs stays focused

Gonzaga freshman Jalen Suggs’ future could not be brighter, but his present is pretty sunny, too.

Suggs put on a show in the first half Saturday with five 3-pointers and 18 points. He finished with seven 3s, 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

He also had an impressive block after committing a turnover against a double-team with about 12 minutes remaining. Suggs hustled back, scooted around one Hawkeye and rejected CJ Fredrick’s shot in the lane.

Suggs has been rising up NBA mock draft boards, and he’s entered the player of the year discussion. That’s been the case since the point guard posted 24 points and eight assists in Gonzaga’s season-opening win over Kansas, but NBA scouts were already well aware of the five-star recruit.

ESPN national recruiting director Paul Biancardi, quoting an NBA scout, tweeted: “Right now it’s a debate between Jalen Suggs, (Oklahoma State freshman) Cade Cunningham and (USC freshman) Evan Mobley for No. 1 (pick).”

Suggs seems to take it all in stride.

“It’s great to hear, but I’m not focused on that,” Suggs said. “I’m focused on the here and now, continuing to win and build with my guys. I think (teammates) along with coaching staff have done a great job keeping me grounded, and helping me keep outside noise out and continue to work every day.

“Whatever happens in the future happens, and I know that’s all God’s plan, but for right now I’m locked in with my guys here.”

Mobley and Gonzaga guard Dominick Harris were teammates at Rancho Christian High in Temecula, California.

Bench brigade

Coach Mark Few turned to his bench early and often against Iowa, with conditioning a concern after the Zags were limited to only a couple of practices the past two weeks due to COVID-19 concerns.

Freshmen Harris and Julian Strawther both played a few minutes in the first half, their first action since the season opener. The Zags continued to turn to the bench with Drew Timme, Corey Kispert and Anton Watson in foul trouble in the second half.

Andrew Nembhard, who is essentially a sixth starter, had 13 points, five rebounds, three assists and three steals in 31 minutes. Aaron Cook had two 3-pointers, nine points, three boards and two assists in 19 minutes. Oumar Ballo chipped in six points in nine minutes.

“We all know what Andrew is capable of. so I don’t know if I consider him coming off the bench,” Few said. “Julian and Dom have just been snake bit by having to sit out due to COVID, or the team having to sit out due to COVID, and also starting fall camp into games with some injuries.

“They’re to the point where we’re really trusting them out there now. Hopefully moving forward, we can get them more and more minutes. Oumar gives us some size and did a couple nice things in there, but we’re still kind of looking for more growth and development at that spot.”

Win over No. 3, slip to No. 2?

Gonzaga’s victory over the Hawkeyes impressed most observers, but apparently not KenPom’s analytics-driven rankings.

The Zags, with wins over three teams ranked in KenPom’s top eight, still dropped to second behind Baylor (5-0), which clobbered Kansas State (3-5) 100-69 on Saturday.

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