It seemed very 2020-like when Dixie State concluded practice Monday and headed for the team bus outside the McCarthey Athletic Center about an hour before Gonzaga tipped off against Northern Arizona.
The Trailblazers presumably watched on TV as the Zags dismantled Northern Arizona by 30. Less than 24 hours later, it seemed very on-court 2020-like when No. 1 Gonzaga did the same thing to Division I newcomer Dixie State.
The Zags (9-0) were wildly efficient on offense – seems to be a recurring theme – and cruised to a 112-67 victory Tuesday over the visitors from St. George, Utah, to wrap up their nonconference schedule. Next up: Saturday’s West Coast Conference opener against visiting San Francisco.
Freshman point guard Jalen Suggs sat out his second straight game with a right leg injury.
“He’s still kind of limping around so we decided to give him another day of rest,” coach Mark Few said. “The plan is to try to amp him up and see how he practices – we’re taking Wednesday off – and hopefully he’ll be ready to roll against San Francisco.”
Junior guard Joel Ayayi was at it again, torching the Trailblazers for 19 first-half points and finishing with 21, equaling his career high. He was 8 of 9 from the field, 3 of 4 from deep, and grabbed 11 boards for his second consecutive double-double.
“I’m always just amazed, especially how he rebounds the ball,” Few said. “Who would have ever thought with that body that he has he’d be able to get in there and have multiple double-doubles in a year like this. He just does it night in and night out.”
Senior Corey Kispert bounced back after scoring a season-low eight points Monday. He drilled four 3-pointers and scored a game-high 25 points as the Zags surpassed the century mark for the first time since dropping 102 points on Kansas in the season opener.
“We play in a system that gets a lot of open looks, a lot of easy shots, a lot of shots at the rim,” Kispert said. “The points rack up pretty quickly when you shoot so close.”
Dixie State, a member of the Western Athletic Conference in the first of a four-year transition to Division I, had four players sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols, including double-figure scorers Frank Staine and Isaiah Pope, and one reserve sidelined with an injury.
The Trailblazers (4-2) battled throughout and had some success at the offensive end, but they joined the growing list of opponents unable to deal with the Zags’ high-powered offense.
Dixie State was within 22-18, but Ayayi and Kispert combined for five 3-pointers in a 27-8 surge that boosted GU’s lead to 49-26 with 4:20 left.
“He’s too good to be held down for so long,” Kispert said of Ayayi, who broke out of a shooting slump with 17 points and 10 boards against Northern Arizona on Monday.
Here’s a stat you don’t see every day: Gonzaga outscored Dixie State 30-0 in points off turnovers. GU had two turnovers in the first half and seven overall. The Trailblazers committed 20 turnovers.
“They run some stuff with some great pace,” said Few, whose club shot 60.3% from the field. “We looked a little slow and tired. I think all this travel and everything we’ve been doing is catching up to us a little bit, but they were missing a lot of guys, too. It’s back-to-back nights against these really quick, athletic point guards that are really good players.
“It took us a while to adjust. We had them in the wrong ball-screen coverage early so we switched them out of that and we started guarding better after that first 7-8 minutes.”
Gonzaga freshman center Oumar Ballo has the most productive game of his career with 17 points on 6-of-6 shooting in 12-plus minutes. Ben Gregg, who joined the team about 10 days ago after graduating early from high school, made his debut, playing the final 4 minutes.
About the only thing in question over the final 10 minutes was if the Zags would eclipse their McCarthey Athletic Center record of 120 points set against Idaho State in 2018. Their scoring pace slowed down in the closing minutes and they finished with 112, third most on the MAC list.
Point guard Cameron Gooden led the Trailblazers with 20 points. Former North Idaho College forward Jarod Greene added 10 points.
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