Top-ranked Gonzaga opened the college basketball season looking very much like the No. 1 team in the country.
Corey Kispert looked like an in-season All-American after being named to the AP preseason All-America team. Drew Timme looked very much like the breakout star many have projected for his sophomore season.
Jalen Suggs lived up to – and probably exceeded – all the hype that comes with being the highest-ranked recruit in school history in his first game as a Zag. Guard Joel Ayayi was the same smooth, stat-sheet filler that he showed last season.
The Zags did it all against Kansas, one of college basketball’s storied programs. And the Zags made it look almost easy at times, at least on the offensive end, against an opponent that prides itself on toughness and stingy defense.
Gonzaga pulled away in the final 10 minutes for a wildly entertaining 102-90 victory over the sixth-ranked Jayhawks on Thursday at Suncoast Credit Union Arena in Fort Myers, Florida.
The players doused head coach Mark Few following the win with what he called an “ice bath” in recognition of his 600th career win.
“From the first one to this one, it’s never been about me. It’s been about the guys … and about the guys that I’ve been able to coach with,” said Few, whose team faces Auburn on Friday at 8 a.m. PST. “For this one to be against such a legendary program and legendary Hall of Fame coach (Bill Self), that will be nice someday when I look back on it.”
Kansas seemed to be looking at the back of Gonzaga’s uniforms most of the game. The Zags’ transition game hit top speed early – Suggs’ first points coming on a dunk after a KU turnover and his second bucket after his steal and layup, all in the opening minute – as GU opened up a double-digit lead after five minutes.
Kispert poured in 11 points in a 3-minute, 40-second stretch, capped by a 3-pointer that pushed him over 1,000 career points as the Zags raced in front, 29-15.
Florida transfer Andrew Nemb- hard, two days after learning his waiver to play immediately had been granted by the NCAA, lost the ball out front, scooped it up and connected on a long 3-pointer just before the shot clock expired as GU led 54-46 at the break.
The Zags’ first-half stats were ridiculously efficient. They shot 68.8% from the field. Kispert and Timme combined for 34 points on 13-of-17 shooting.
“Not the happiest of Thanksgivings so far,” Self said. “We played a great team. They have four guards that will be the best guards we play all year long, and Drew is terrific. Their speed and how fast they played definitely surprised us early. Defensively, we were never really connected.”
Timme finished with 25 points, Suggs 24, Kispert 23, Ayayi 15 and Nembhard 11. Suggs had a game-high eight assists.
“Just playing patient, picking my spots, my moments,” Suggs said. “My teammates really lifted me up the whole week, they kept me calm, kept me in tune, and it really helped lift my confidence. Everybody played their part and did their role. Drew and Corey really picked up the scoring in tough moments.”
The Jayhawks’ best stretch came early in the second half. They tied it at 56, then 57, and trailed 72-71 when the Zags regained command. Timme (two inside field goals), Kispert (four points) and Suggs (five points) led a 13-2 run that deflated the Jayhawks.
“I know we will not be terribly satisfied with our defense at this point of the season, but a lot of times these games early are played at that pace,” Few said.
“We have guys that can score. I don’t think anyone played out of their minds or anything. They were doing all the things they’ve been doing at practice.
Added Few: “It does take a high level of toughness to deliver against a team like Kansas.”
Gonzaga reached the century mark with 2:17 remaining on Ayayi’s layup off Suggs’ pass. The Zags’ 102 points was the most allowed by KU since it yielded 103 in an overtime loss to Indiana in 2016. It was the most points scored against a Kansas team in regulation since 1990.
Gonzaga made 77.3% of its 2-point attempts, the worst allowed by a Self-coached Kansas team in his 18 seasons.
The Zags piled up 62 paint points. Kansas hadn’t allowed more than 46 in a game in the past 15 years, according to ESPN. Self noted that many of those points came in transition after Jayhawks’ turnovers.
“Next to Kentucky’s two teams,” said Self, mentioning the Wildcats’ 2011-12 national championship team and the 2014-15 squad that lost in the Final Four after an undefeated regular season, “I don’t know that we’ve played against a team where the pieces fit better and the talent matched the pieces more so than what we did today. They’re really good.”
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