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Gonzaga Basketball

John Blanchette: Gonzaga’s Jalen Suggs proved hype can be underestimated, as he feasted on the Jayhawks

Gonzaga freshman guard Jalen Suggs goes between his legs for a dunk in warm-ups Thursday before the Bulldogs defeated Kansas 102-90 at the Fort Myers Tip-Off in Fort Myers, Fla.  (Chris Tilley/Fort Myers Tip-Off)
By John Blanchette For The Spokesman-Review

There’s a chance Jalen Suggs could be Gonzaga’s first one-and-done player.

No, no one’s forgetting about Zach Collins. Just park your gotcha for a second.

One game and done.

Kidding. Relax, he’ll be suited up for Friday’s encore against Auburn.

Just attempting to show just how extraordinary the Bulldogs’ freshman guard was in his Thanksgiving debut against Kansas, and how unprecedented it is to see this sort of young, bold package in a college basketball program that prefers to marinate its alpha guards for two or three seasons.

Meanwhile, is there some place higher than No. 1 where the Bulldogs can be slotted in the next poll?

The Zags have a pretty fair average in their November and December swings against the best teams in the game, but there’s never been a leadoff at-bat like this.

This wasn’t just a victory, it was a statement – 102-90 over Kansas, where the basketball blood is so blue they presume to have invented the game and not just hired the creator to teach P.E. and run the chapel.

Wait – that wasn’t the statement. This was the statement:

“They’re really good,” said coach Bill Self. “Next to that Kentucky team – well, Kentucky’s two teams, in (2012) and whenever the other one was (2015) that made the undefeated run so long – I don’t know that we’ve played against a team where the pieces fit better or the talent matched the pieces.”

How about that? Gonzaga coach Mark Few got his 600th career victory on Thursday and a refrigerator of solid gold expectation to lug around on his back for the season, courtesy of his buddy Bill.

Now, Self spoke clearly: pieces, plural.

But it’s just as easy to surmise that he’s talking about Jalen Suggs.

Sure, big Drew Timme was all but unstoppable with his odd angles and impeccable footwork underneath, and Corey Kispert is the preseason All-American, and the late addition of transfer Andrew Nembhard isn’t just a game changer, but a season changer. Poisons must be picked, as with most recent Zags teams.

But it was obvious both immediately and eventually that while these are the Zags, they are also the Zuggs.


There was that business barely 30 seconds into the action, when Anton Watson – the flypaper in Gonzaga’s 1-2-2 press – made a steal and shuttled the ball to teammate Joel Ayayi, who sent it aloft for a soaring Suggs to flush through the net.

How often should we expect to see this?

“A whole lot,” Suggs said later, lighting up Zoom with a grin.

Indeed, the bros kept up the high-fiving on social media so long that they likely missed an even better Suggsian effort just seconds later – raking the ball away from Kansas’ David McCormack in the post and outracing the Jayhawks for a layup.

This was an eye-opener to Self, and already marks this Gonzaga season as different than what’s come before – however long COVID allows college basketball to have a season.

“Their speed and how fast they play surprised us early,” he said.

This was Suggs and Nemb- hard and Ayayi, one of the few true old hands among the Zags, but also Kispert blowing to the hole with a new surge, and transfer guard Aaron Cook. The Bulldogs have always had fine guards, but not with quickness this deep. It’s what allowed the Bulldogs, after a thundering start, to keep the Jayhawks at bay, even with Suggs limited to just six minutes in the first half after picking up a second foul. GU had 62 points in the paint – Kansas hadn’t allowed that many in 15 seasons.

This wasn’t the Gonzaga power game of recent vintage. Timme was uber-efficient, but 28 of those paint points came in transition, and another dozen off guard penetration in half-court sets.

“When I got out here today, I was going to play loose and really have fun with the game,” Suggs said. “I know when I have fun, I play a lot better, a lot looser, and that’s what I did today, especially in the second half – and came up with a great one.”

Oh, yeah. That second half. The Zags’ general M.O. is to struggle with the close-out against these heavyweights, win or lose. This time, with the Jayhawks down five and eight minutes to play, Suggs drew a foul for two free throws and knocked down a 3, and halfway home Gonzaga was up 16. He scored 11 of his 24 points in the big finish.

This was as advertised, of course. Suggs is the highest- ranked recruit in Gonzaga history – No. 6 on ESPN’s list. But recruiting hoo-hah is one thing, and the eye test another.

“I was proud of Jalen for his first time out,” said Few. “With all the hype going on, he was focused and competed, which is what he does terrifically. He’s a high, high, high-level competitor.”

And likely a high, high, high NBA pick. Just not today. But the pros do start in a month.

Would you believe half- season-and-done?