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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga enters holiday break with a merry 95-49 victory over Northern Arizona

Gonzaga's Chet Holmgren stretches a long arm to defend against Northern Arizona's Jalen Cone in the second half of the non-conference game at the McCarthey Athletic Center at Gonzaga University in Spokane Washington Monday, Dec. 20, 2021.  (JESSE TINSLEY)

Gonzaga’s last game before Christmas break probably couldn’t have unfolded much more smoothly Tuesday night.

The fourth-ranked Zags coasted to an easy win, 14 players saw court time and 11 scored. Fans went home with free tacos on Gonzaga’s 10th 3-pointer, there were no injuries and freshman forward Kaden Perry returned after missing four games with an ailing back.

It added up to a lot of pre-holiday cheer with a feel-good 95-49 rout over Northern Arizona in front of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

“Lots of guys having good contributions,” said freshman guard Hunter Sallis, who scored nine points off the bench. “Just having that same energy, bringing that same energy we’ve been bringing, it’s a good way to go into Christmas.”

Gonzaga coach Mark Few agreed .

“A great way (to go into break),” Few said. “Just a great effort on both sides of the floor, especially in that second half. We didn’t have a turnover and we didn’t give up a 3-pointer. So consequently the efficiencies were really good on both sides of the ball.”

The Zags haven’t had many issues scoring points this season with just two games under 80 points. They were coming off a 69-55 win over No. 25 Texas Tech on Saturday in Phoenix, fueled by a season-high 13 3-pointers and a stingy defense.

Gonzaga (10-2) still had the 3-ball working (10 of 22), and its season-long strength of 2-point efficiency returned after an off night against the Red Raiders’ paint-conscious defense.

The Zags made 60.5% inside the arc and piled up a 42-22 advantage in paint points.

The rout appeared to be on early when NAU decided to leave freshman forward Chet Holmgren wide open on three straight 3-point attempts. He made all three and the Zags led 13-4.

Holmgren entered the game at 33.3% from deep, but he was an accomplished shooter in high school and AAU ball and his smooth stroke passes the eye test.

“I was surprised,” Sallis said. “The dude can shoot it, as he’s shown.”

“They’re trippin’ for that,” added junior forward Anton Watson, who had another big night off the bench with 17 points, three rebounds and two steals.

The Lumberjacks battled back as Jalen Cone, a Virginia Tech transfer averaging a team-high 17.6 points, began connecting with regularity despite the Zags trying at least three different defenders.

Cone drained a 3-pointer while being fouled and landing on his wallet out of bounds. He made the free throw to trim GU’s lead to 16-15. The 5-foot-11 guard hit another 3 – one of his four in the first half – to keep NAU within 23-18, but the Zags pulled away when Cone went scoreless over the next 8 minutes.

Watson hit a free throw and layup, Drew Timme scored five straight points and Julian Strawther and Andrew Nembhard connected on 3s as Gonzaga’s lead grew to 43-25.

Cone made an elbow jumper and a pull-up 3 to finish the half with 17 points, but GU still led 48-30.

Gonzaga shut down Cone and NAU’s 3-point attack in the second half. Cone made just 1 of 6 from the field in the second half and finished with 19 points. The Lumberjacks (4-8) misfired on all 11 second-half 3s.

“Some of those shots he hit were tough,” Few said. “We tightened it up a little bit, we stayed on his body a little bit better and also got out to the other guys (that hit 3s in the first half).”

Gonzaga opened the second half by scoring nine of the first 11 points to extend its lead to 57-32.

Holmgren, who finished 6 of 9 from the floor, reached his season-high of 20 points with two free throws with 7:28 left and was replaced by Ben Gregg. Perry, who tweaked his back in a pregame workout before the Tarleton State game, played the final 6-plus minutes.

Gregg drained a pair of 3-pointers, becoming the seventh Zag with at least one made 3.

Timme opened the game with a 3-pointer and finished with 14 points. Holmgren led the Zags with nine boards and three blocks.

Gonzaga committed just five turnovers – all in a 5-minute stretch to end the first half. NAU turned it over 20 times, leading to GU’s 27-5 edge in points off turnovers.