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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

TV Take: Fireworks arise off the court in Gonzaga’s COVID-delayed thumping of Northern Arizona

UPDATED: Mon., Dec. 28, 2020

Gonzaga coach Mark Few watches his team easily beat Northern Arizona on Monday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.  (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga coach Mark Few watches his team easily beat Northern Arizona on Monday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (JESSE TINSLEY/The Spokesman-Review)
By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

Early this month, Gonzaga had to cancel five games due to COVID-19 issues within the program. Of those five, only Monday night’s matchup with Northern Arizona, originally scheduled for Dec. 12, made its way back on the GU schedule.

It turned out to be not much of a contest, even with the Zags sitting all-everything point guard Jalen Suggs for what was termed a right leg injury. The rest of the No. 1 team in the nation had more than enough to ease to an 88-58 victory over the Lumberjacks.

Bringing it into our homes were the local SWX and KHQ trio of Greg Heister on the play-by-play, joined by former Bulldog players Richard Fox and Dan Dickau as analysts.

What they saw …

• It’s hard to overlook the fact that Gonzaga (8-0) has already defeated four ranked teams. No one has done that before in their first seven games, mainly because not many high-end programs play that many challenging nonconference foes.

So if you’ve wondered why the Zags, who also played twice last week against Northwestern State, rescheduled 1-6 Northern Arizona, Fox was there to explain.

“Obviously it’s difficult to have the same level of excitement against Northern Arizona – no disrespect – versus going to play Virginia in Texas this weekend,” he said early on. “But for guys like (Dominick) Harris … (and Julian) Strawther, (it’s) a wonderful opportunity to give those guys some extended run.”

Later, Fox added 7-foot center Oumar Ballo to that list.

The wide margin allowed the three freshmen to play extended minutes, with Harris scoring 12 points in 16 minutes, while Strawther, playing 20 minutes, added two points and Ballo, with nine of his 12 minutes coming after halftime, chipping in five points.

It also allowed the crew to announce their player of the game with nearly 8 minutes left to play. For the record, it was Joel Ayayi, who had a team-high 17 points, made a career-high four 3-pointers and grabbed his (seemingly) usual 10 rebounds.

• Everyone knows Gonzaga is ranked No. 1 in the nation and by a wide margin. But how good are these Zags? You know, in comparison to the program’s best teams?

Fox had an answer before the game began, and the former GU post didn’t equivocate.

“This is, in fact,” he said, “the best team Gonzaga has ever put together.”

Put that quote down for after the NCAA tourney.

What we saw …

• When Mark Few was given a technical foul early in the second half – after an iffy offensive foul call on Drew Timme – Heister mentioned he hadn’t seen that before, though he certainly has, as Few isn’t shy about sharing his opinion.

But it allowed Fox to add a humorous comment: “I’ve seen a few.”

• Could familiarity be building a little conflict? It seems as if that might be the case between the local broadcast trio, if one interaction five minutes into the second half is any indication.

Their usually playful banter turned a bit warm following a graphic which listed the Zags’ current NBA players.

Fox pointed out how most of those players are bigs, which Dickau admitted was the trend. However, after Fox mentioned Suggs, Dickau hypothesized that the freshman, along with two other freshmen, Cade Cunningham of Oklahoma State and USC’s Evan Mobley, are the frontrunners to be the No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft.

Heister jumped in.

“I wouldn’t leave Corey Kispert out of that conversation either,” he interjected, though it was obvious Dickau was talking about a) freshmen and b) the top pick.

Kispert isn’t the former and has little chance of being the latter.

“He’s going to be in that league next year,” Heister added.

“Without a doubt,” Dickau conceded, before adding, “We said No. 1 pick, right?”

That seemed to sail right by.

“You don’t think he’s got a shot at the first round?” Heister asked with a tone of incredulity.

“No, I was talking first pick,” an obviously annoyed Dickau answered.

Smartly, Fox jumped in, trying to steer the conversation back on board.

“He did not say that,” he said, addressing Heister.

After Dickau thanked Fox, there was an almost 10 -second pause, with only some chuckling heard in the background. Then Fox asked Dickau to just say yes or no, would Kispert be a first-round selection in the draft? The answer was, after a long explanation why, a declarative “he’s a surefire first-round pick.”

Which led to one last Heister comment.

“I’m not sure who won the argument, but I feel like I was on top when it was over,” he said.

Not really.

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