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A look back: Gonzaga ripped big victories from the start and never looked back

By Justin Reed For The Spokesman-Review

One win from immortality, the Gonzaga Bulldogs find themselves sitting at 31-0.

With Saturday’s victory over UCLA, the Zags now face Baylor on Monday with an NCAA Tournament men’s basketball championship on the line.

Gonzaga’s historic run included its fifth straight season with at least 30 wins, the longest such streak in NCAA history.

Let’s take a look back at each of those 31 opponents and subsequent wins.

Nov. 26, Kansas: In what became the Jalen Suggs breakout game – the first game of the season, no less – the freshman guard finished with 24 points and eight assists.

The Bulldogs beat the sixth-ranked Jayhawks 102-90 in the Fort Myers Tip-Off in Fort Myers, Florida.

“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.”

Nov. 27, Auburn: Drew Timme’s sophomore season started off solid against Kansas, but the Texan recorded a double-double in this game.

He scored 28 points with 10 rebounds and the Zags rolled over Auburn 90-67 in Fort Myers.

“Just great coaching,” Timme said, who made 11 of 16 shots. “When we execute the offense and we’re really moving the ball and not getting stagnant with it, we feel like we can score almost every time.”

Dec. 2, West Virginia: Almost a cataclysmic event happened early in this game as Suggs went down with the dreaded noncontact injury.

In what was assumed to be an Achilles injury, the freshman returned in the second half with what was dubbed an ankle injury.

The Bulldogs faced their closest game of the regular season as they knocked off the No. 11 Mountaineers 87-82 in the Jimmy V Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

“That’s basically how a lot of games are going to go,” coach Mark Few said. “I don’t think they’re just going to be on and flowy and easy as they were in Florida. We’re going to have to adjust as players and coaches and just get ready for battles like that.”

This might be the one time when Few was incorrect — at least, until the Final Four.

Dec. 19, Iowa: The Zags went on a 17-day coronavirus pause between the WVU and the Iowa games, including the cancellation of a contest against No. 2 Baylor.

It eventually didn’t matter as the Bulldogs took some time to get rolling, but ended up beating the No. 3-ranked Hawkeyes 99-88 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

“It was a pretty challenging two weeks,” Suggs said. “One thing we did really well is we all stayed in contact and stayed level-headed. We knew we’d get through it and we’d play again.”

Suggs finished with 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists. He had seven 3-pointers in the game.

Dec. 21, Northwestern State: What was predicted to be a 381/2-point rout almost wasn’t as the Demons kept it within five late in the first half.

But Corey Kispert and the Zags turned it on in the second half and won 95-57 in the season’s first home game.

“It’s just being in the zone, everything kind of slows down and you make reads, and luckily my first couple shots fell in, so I was able to be aggressive throughout the game,” Kispert said. “Credit to guys like Jalen (Suggs) and Joel (Ayayi) for making my life really easy and getting me open shots.”

Dec. 22, Northwestern State: For the second time already this season, the Bulldogs played in back-to-back days, this time against the Demons again.

The Bulldogs struggled again for a period of time, but ended up cruising to a 95-78 victory in the Kennel.

In this game, the Demons got hot late, pouring in 61 points in the second half.

“I have a ton of respect (for Northwestern State),” Few said. “They competed for 40 minutes each night. They got down big both nights, they didn’t quit and they kept coming and coming. I tip my hat to them.”

Timme finished with 22 points.

Dec. 26, Virginia: In what ended up being its final ranked foe of the regular season, Gonzaga obliterated the 16th-ranked Cavaliers 98-75 at Dickies Arena in Fort Worth, Texas.

The Bulldogs wrapped up four wins over AP Top 20 teams in their first seven games, the first time that has happened in college basketball according to ESPN Stats and Info.

Kispert scored a career-high 32 points and made nine 3-pointers to share the program’s single-game record with Kevin Pangos and Dan Dickau.

“We had the right mindset in trying to come back, but I definitely think a couple of us were scared,” Virginia point guard Kihei Clark said. “I don’t know if it was because we were playing Gonzaga or the moment, but you could kind of feel it a little bit.”

The 98 points were the second most against Virginia in Tony Bennett’s 12 seasons. Washington is the only team to reach 100, scoring 106 in November 2010, Bennett’s second season.

Dec. 28, Northern Arizona: Ayayi scored 17 points with 10 rebounds for his second double-double of the season as GU beat the Lumberjacks 88-58 in the Kennel.

“Just staying confident and trusting the work I put in,” Ayayi said. “Everybody has rough patches, and I was in one. Hopefully I’m out of it.”

At the time, Ayayi had only taken 13 shots in the previous three games.

“We told him he needs to hunt shots,” Few said. “He was thinking drives in prior games, and he’s having great success driving, but he’s a more than capable 3-point shooter.”

Dec. 29, Dixie State: Another game, another offensive showcase as the Bulldogs trampled the Trailblazers 112-67 at home.

And another offensive explosion for Ayayi, who equaled his career-high with 21 points and grabbed another 11 rebounds.

“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.”

Kispert added a game-high 25 points for GU.

Jan. 2, San Francisco: In what was one of the closer games of the season – the Dons got within three with a minute left in the first half – the Zags still took care of business, winning 85-62 in the Kennel.

In those 60 seconds, the Bulldogs quickly put up seven points, including a 40-foot bucket from Kispert, to carry momentum into the second half.

“It was a great second half and it was a great second half of defense against a pretty potent offense,” Few said. “I think we all saw in the first half what they were capable of doing.”

Kispert led the Bulldogs with 26 points and Ayayi had another double-double (18 points, 10 rebounds).

“Joel’s on a great run right now,” Few said. “He’s doing a good job of taking what the defense is giving him, and those numbers are showing that.”

Jan. 7, BYU: In what should have been a tighter contest on paper, the Bulldogs won 86-69 at the McCarthey Athletic Center after BYU came off of a COVID-19 break.

The Zags jumped to a 23-2 lead after the first 7 minutes, 7 seconds.

“We all have a great competitive spirit,” Suggs said. “We all want to compete for each other, the school, ourselves. (A 23-2 lead) speaks volumes about how much we’re growing offensively and defensively.”

Suggs broke out his quarterback arm, throwing a touchdown to Ayayi, 80 feet down the court for an easy layup.

Kispert again led the Bulldogs with 23 points, his seventh game with more than 23 points.

Jan. 9, Portland: For how well Ayayi played up until this point in the season, his game at the Pilots was his best yet.

The Frenchman recorded the first triple-double in school history as the Bulldogs beat Portland 116-88 at the Chiles Center.

“I had a feeling it was bound to happen at some point, to be honest. I’m just lucky and thankful it happened (Saturday),” Ayayi said. “I’m just kind of lucky that I’m the first one. I know a bunch of players will have it in the future just because of the way we play. We’ve been recruiting good guys.”

Ayayi finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists. His assists were second all-time in GU history behind Blake Stepp’s 16 against Long Beach State in 2002.

GU’s 29 total assists tied for third in school history.

Jan. 14, Pepperdine: A sloppy first 25 minutes kept the game closer than expected, but the Bulldogs pulled away to win 95-70 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

It was the second straight season Pepperdine gave GU fits at home.

“The first thing I’d say is we’re not just going to blow everybody out in the first half. It’s just not going to happen,” Few said after Gonzaga’s 12th win by double digits. “We’re going to be in battles. “We missed some shots I think we normally make, which happens in basketball, and we were a little sloppy.”

Timme finished with a team-high 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

The Bulldogs had an opportunity to open up the lead a few times, but kept letting the Waves back into the game.

Jan. 16, Saint Mary’s: In the slowest-paced game of the season, the Bulldogs needed to adjust quickly.

They found their stride and took care of Saint Mary’s 73-59 at the UCU Pavilion in Moraga, California.

It took GU to be down by 10 before they woke up, but Kispert and his 17 points helped carry the load.

A 4.5-magnitude earthquake shook the gym in the second half to keep things interesting.

A usually rocking Pavilion was silent as most of the arenas had been, causing some of the early game sleepiness.

“It’s definitely hard. This place is usually rocking,” Timme said. “I think we have to do a better job of creating our own energy.”

Jan. 23, Pacific: The Zags coasted past the Tigers 95-49 at home for their fourth-largest margin of victory.

Timme led the Bulldogs with 22 points in only 24 minutes. Freshman guard Dominick Harris had his best game of the season, scoring 11 points in 12 minutes.

It was a nice response after a lackluster game against Saint Mary’s.

“The ball movement was better against a team that was pretty determined to jam up all our actions up, especially our rim runs,” Few said. “One thing this team has is they can really pass the ball, especially that starting group, and then when you throw Andrew out there you have six guys that can really pass.”

Jan. 28, San Diego: In what had become a theme at this point in the season, the Bulldogs crept slowly along to start the game.

But behind Timme’s 21 points and 19 from Kispert, GU handled the Toreros 90-62 at the Jenny Craig Pavilion.

Timme once again mentioned the environment being a factor in their slow starts.

“We just have to do a better job internally,” Timme said. “There’s nothing that any team does to us that we can’t handle, but coming into an environment like this, like every environment, there’s no energy, no fans. We have to do a better job of coming out ready from the jump.”

San Diego head coach Sam Scholl was impressed with the Zags as a whole.

“They have the No. 1 offense in the nation and I believe the No. 15 defense (No. 11 in KenPom’s metrics),” Scholl said. “They’re very, very good on both sides of the ball.”

Jan. 30, Pepperdine: The Zags trailed 16-11 early on in the game before senior Aaron Cook came into the fold to help the Bulldogs to a 97-75 rout at Firestone Fieldhouse in Malibu, California.

Within 90 seconds, he had an assist and a layup and the Zags were off and running. He also forced a charging call on Pepperdine’s leading scorer Colbey Ross to send him to the bench.

“Aaron came in and really opened up the game,” said Few, whose team has won 41 straight over Pepperdine dating to 2002. “He hit some 3s. I think their plan was to play off him a little bit and he made them pay for that. Of all our guys, he did probably the best job guarding Colbey.”

Cook finished with a season-high 15 points.

GU made 85.3% of its shots inside the arc and almost 60% overall. Andrew Nembhard had eight assists.

Feb. 4, Pacific: In their second-lowest scoring output of the season, the Bulldogs used every ounce of toughness and defense to beat the Tigers 76-58 on the road.

“We had to dig deep and find some toughness because we didn’t have it in the first half,” Few said. “They took the fight to us pretty much the whole first half.”

Pacific actually led at halftime after trailing by 31 in the first matchup.

“We went out and attacked them,” Suggs said. “The first half, we were letting them push us around and not really fighting back.”

After this win, the Zags had won 51 of their past 52 West Coast Conference road games.

Timme scored 21 points and Suggs added 19 with nine rebounds.

Feb. 8, BYU: While they didn’t jump out to a 23-2 start this time against the Cougars, the Zags did get out to a 15-2 lead.

For the first time in a few weeks, GU dictated the pace from the first tip and won 82-71 over BYU at the Marriott Center in Provo.

“That (start) was just how much respect they have for BYU,” Few said. “This team, all year when they know the guys across from them are more than capable of taking them down, have always responded pretty darn well.”

Timme finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.

Suggs, in foul trouble in the first half, still managed 24 points, five rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes.

“Sometimes he’s so aggressive, he got a couple tough ones early, I’ll have to go back and watch those first two (fouls),” Few said of Suggs. “He’s not going to play perfect every game out.”

Feb. 13, San Francisco: Timme had his best and most efficient game of the season as the Bulldogs dominated the Dons 100-61 on the road.

“We just took what they gave us,” Timme said. “That just happened to be me early.”

Timme made 11 of his 12 attempts for 28 points, just shy of the career-high 29 he scored against Virginia.

The only reason he didn’t break that mark was because Timme only played 22 minutes.

“He’s always been able to score the ball,” Few said. “The thing I’m proud of is he’s really defending much better. I could feel his presence out there. He was talking and communicating.”

The Zags collected their 17th consecutive double-digit victory, the longest streak by an AP No. 1 team since UNLV won 19 straight during the 1990-91 season.

Feb. 18, Saint Mary’s: The Bulldogs took care of the Gaels 87-65 at the McCarthey Athletic Center to clinch their ninth straight conference championship, the longest active streak in the nation.

The offensive and defensive balance was in full force for this game and Few reflected on what makes the team so special.

“It’s kind of who we are this year,” Few said. “This isn’t the most physically imposing squad we’ve marched out, like 2017. It’s not the oldest or most experienced like 2017 or the most crazy, athletically gifted … But this is a team. They move it and share it and they make the right play for the most part and the offensive numbers are reflecting that. It’s something to behold if you ask me, just the way we’re playing and their understanding of it.”

Kispert scored a game-high 20 points.

Feb. 20, San Diego: The Bulldogs were off and running in this game, locking down on defense and forcing turnovers.

They won comfortably 106-69 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“That defensive side of the ball is where we’ve taken strides in the last few games,” Zags guard Andrew Nembhard said.

Gonzaga finished with a season-high 33 points off turnovers, one more than the 32 it had against Virginia. The Zags’ 70 points in the paint ranked third behind the games against Portland (80) and Dixie State (72).

Timme led GU with 21 points and eight rebounds.

Feb. 25, Santa Clara: It took some time for the Zags to get rolling and the Broncos gave them their first test in a while at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

GU, which had trailed for 50 seconds in 10 home games, trailed for 11:26 of the first half.

“In the beginning, we just went through the motions. They played with a lot more passion to start the game,” Suggs said. “We’d make two or three good plays, then we’d make a mistake, a turnover, a bad pass, (allow) a wide-open 3 and let them stay in the game.”

The Bulldogs were able to turn the game around behind 25 points from Kispert and 18 from Timme.

Feb. 27, Loyola Marymount: For the first time in school history, the Bulldogs finished a regular season without a loss by beating LMU 86-69 at the Kennel.

They became only the eighth team with an unblemished regular season in the past 45 years, joining Kentucky (2015), Wichita State (2014), Saint Joseph’s (2004), UNLV (1991), Indiana State (1979), Alcorn State (1979) and Indiana (1976).

“As I told them in practice (Friday), we’ve never done it (an unbeaten regular season) here in this program,” Few said. “It’s getting harder and harder to find something that’s never been done before in this program. There are very few things left.”

The Zags also extended the nation’s longest active home winning streak to 51 games, a program record.

On senior night, the Zags were led by Kispert’s 24 points.

March 8, Saint Mary’s: Usually meeting in the finals of the West Coast Conference tournaments, the Bulldogs and the Gaels met in the semifinals.

But as has been the case recently, the Zags handed Saint Mary’s a 78-55 loss at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

Timme led GU with 18 points and eight rebounds.

“He’s been great all year,” Few said. “That’s why he’s an All-American candidate and up for player of the year. He’s a heck of a player. I’m on his ass a lot, but I probably don’t tell him enough just how good he is. Some of us just have that lot in life and that role. He’s a joy to coach.”

March 9, BYU: Flawless to this point, the Bulldogs almost lost its spotless record, the top overall seed in the NCAA Tournament and the West Coast Conference Tournament championship.

The Cougars built a 14-point first-half lead and caused the Zags all sorts of headaches throughout the game.

It wasn’t until four minutes left in the game when Suggs helped carry the Bulldogs to the WCC title with a 88-78 win at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

“When the lights are shining the brightest and the more people are watching, I always want to go out and make plays, but more importantly I really just want to come out with a win,” Suggs said. “I told coach (Few) with about 6, 7 minutes left, ‘We’re not walking out of here without a championship. I’m going to get it done.’”

The Zags (26-0) became the 20th squad to enter the NCAA Tournament unbeaten since the tourney’s debut in 1939.

March 20, Norfolk State: It was one of the more balanced games of the season for the top-seeded Bulldogs, who throttled the 16th-seeded Spartans 98-55 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis for their largest margin of victory of the season.

“The guys came out with a great approach, played great defense all night,” Few said. “They run a lot of stuff and they switch defenses, so there’s a lot of adjusting going on by our guys.”

Anton Watson had one of his best games of his GU career, scoring 17 points on 7-for-7 shooting and seven rebounds.

“We’ve been asking and begging and yelling and doing whatever we can to try to get him more aggressive and assertive in every phase of the game,” Few said.

March 22, Oklahoma: Another solid performance from the Bulldogs led to an 87-71 victory over the eighth-seeded Sooners at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

“Obviously it’s a childhood dream,” Timme said. “This feeling is only going to last the rest of the night and then we’ve got to prepare and we have a lot of work to do. We’re not satisfied with this. This is not the end goal.”

Timme poured in a career-high 30 points, equaled his career best with 13 rebounds and added four assists.

March 28, Creighton: The Zags needed a complete game to take care of the fifth-seeded Bluejays 83-65 at Hinkle Fieldhouse.

It earned GU another trip to the Elite Eight, its fourth in the past six seasons.

“That’s been our identity all season,” Nembhard said. “We play our best when we’re just moving the ball because we have so many pieces and so much versatility. It’s just like playing in a park with a bunch of guys that click so well.”

Timme led the Zags with 22 points and Nembhard added 17 points.

March 30, USC: What looked to be a tough test for the Bulldogs turned into the same ol’, same ol’.

GU ran over the Trojans 85-66 at Lucas Oil Stadium to advance to its second Final Four in school history.

“This is something that needs to be celebrated and we need to take the time to enjoy the heck out of it because I think you’re just missing the whole point in life if all you’re doing is going to the very end game,” Few said.

Timme scored a game-high 23 points and Kispert and Suggs added 18 apiece.

The Bulldogs became the first team in Division I history with five consecutive 30-win seasons.

April 3, UCLA: Suggs banked in a shot at the buzzer from near the half-court logo to lift the Zags to a 93-90 overtime victory and move them one win away from an undefeated season and a national title.

What should come as no surprise from a team this good: It’s a shot the Zags practice all the time.

“Every day in shootaround before the game we shoot half-courters,” Suggs said. “I haven’t been making my half-courters, but I got it with confidence, put it up. It’s crazy. I can’t come to words right now.”

After the shot went in, Suggs ran to the mostly empty press row, jumped up on the table, pumped his fists and let out a huge yell to the crowd of 8,000-or-so socially distanced fans. The refs checked to make sure he got the shot off before the buzzer sounded. He did, and the Bulldogs moved into the final.

The Bulldogs are the first team to bring an undefeated record into the championship game since Larry Bird and Indiana State in 1979. Indiana in 1976 was the last NCAA champion to go undefeated through the entire season.

Even without Suggs’ shot, for pure excitement, it would’ve been hard to beat this game , which appeared headed for a second OT after UCLA scored with 3.3 seconds left before Suggs’ heroics.

April 5, Baylor: The NCAA championship game.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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