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Gonzaga Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga aims for stronger finishes after late-game lapses against Alabama, Duke

UPDATED: Tue., Dec. 7, 2021

If watching the final minutes of Gonzaga-Alabama on Saturday reminded you of a recent Zag game, you weren’t alone.

“We weren’t good in that last 4 minutes, similar to the Duke game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said following a 91-82 loss at Climate Pledge Arena in Seattle. “We have to be better than that.”

Tense finishes were nowhere to be found when Gonzaga was pummeling its first six opponents by comfortable margins. Texas and UCLA, as expected, were the closest of the six, but GU led each top-five opponent by 20 at halftime.

The Longhorns cut the deficit to 11 three times in the second half, but Gonzaga responded each time. Texas scored the game’s final six points in an 86-74 loss. GU led UCLA by 21 midway through the first half and the closest gap in the second half was 16 points.

The past three games have been a 40-minute story, and Gonzaga certainly didn’t enjoy the closing chapters against Duke and Alabama.

In between, Gonzaga was in a close contest with 30-point underdog Tarleton State, but tightened up its play in the final minutes of a 64-55 victory. The Texans were tough, but they won’t be confused with legitimate national championship contenders Duke and Alabama.

The fifth-ranked Zags (7-2) are title contenders as well, but they’ll have to execute better in crunch time to stay in that conversation.

Alabama led by 18 early in the second half, but the Zags rallied within 76-72 and had a packed house of 18,048 on its feet after Anton Watson’s putback with 5:29 remaining.

From there, it unraveled as the Zags went scoreless until Julian Strawther’s dunk at the 1-minute mark. Gonzaga committed one turnover, went 0 of 7 on field-goal attempts, including three straight 3-pointers, and missed the front-end of a 1-and-1 in that span.

“They weren’t good possessions for us,” Few said bluntly. “We tried to direct the ball to (Drew Timme) or Andrew (Nembhard) and (Timme) in some sort of action. They did a nice job defending it. We’ve always been good at getting into the next action and we didn’t really do a great job.

“The ball ended up maybe in some uncomfortable positions with different guys and they couldn’t convert. We also missed a couple things around the rim and then a couple 3s, too. Those go in and we’re feeling better about it.”

That’s only half of the picture. The Crimson Tide weren’t much better during a 2:40 dry spell, missing three shots before JD Davison and Jahvon Quinerly connected on 3-pointers to restore a 10-point lead. The Zags were 1 of 9 from the field and 0 of 1 at the free-throw line while Alabama extended its lead.

Gonzaga hit a pair of 3-pointers in the last 25 seconds with the outcome out of reach, but was just 4 of 14 shots over the final 5 minutes. Alabama was 4 of 8 from the field and 5 of 6 at the foul line.

“It’s not always about us,” Few said. “They stepped up and made shots. We’re playing a lot of great teams, so if you’re not hitting on all cylinders and doing everything just right, they make you pay.”

A huge comeback wasn’t necessary in the Gonzaga-Duke game. The Zags trailed by nine early, but neither team led by more than five in a seesaw second half.

Gonzaga held a 73-71 edge with 5:07 remaining but stumbled down the stretch. The offense went scoreless for 3:30. After three turnovers, three errant shots and a miss on the front end of a 1-and-1, the Zags were down 76-73.

The Zags, much like the Alabama game, had opportunities against the Blue Devils, who went nearly 3 minutes without a point. GU didn’t capitalize, missing three shots, a free throw and turning it over twice.

Duke held on, thanks to Jeremy Roach’s layup and by making 7 of 10 free throws. GU was 4 of 10 from the field with three turnovers in the final 4:40, including Timme’s desperation heave from 85 feet at the buzzer.

Against Tarleton State, Gonzaga made 5 of 8 from the field, 5 of 7 free throws and played turnover-free in the final 5-plus minutes to turn a 49-47 lead into a nine-point win. The Texans had two turnovers, two field goals and three free throws.

Last year’s Zags usually steamrolled opponents in winning their first 31 games, but they had to prove they could come from behind and handle pressure situations against West Virginia, BYU and UCLA, all on neutral courts.

This year’s Zags are younger with three freshmen and a grad transfer in the eight-man rotation vs. Alabama. They will likely encounter more nailbiters. Few has told the media in recent seasons it’s unrealistic to expect Gonzaga to cruise to lopsided victories game after game.

“We’re playing the best of the best,” Timme said after the Alabama game. “I feel like they’re great learning experiences. Better now than March, right?

“We’re a young and we’re still figuring things out. We’ve had some good things, even in these losses in close games. It’s a long season, we have a long way to go. We have plenty of time to get our stuff right.”

“Drew’s right,” Few added. “The young guys played very well (vs. Alabama). They helped us, they made plays. Hunter (Sallis) got in there and made some really nice plays. Nolan (Hickman) was terrific, especially in that second half.

“That’s going to bode well for the future.”

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