Arrow-right Camera
Go to e-Edition Sign up for newsletters Customer service
Subscribe now
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga staying flexible, ready with COVID-19 prompted schedule change

Dec. 29, 2021 Updated Thu., Dec. 30, 2021 at 5:45 p.m.

Gonzaga freshman Nolan Hickman makes a pass during a 93-63 win over North Alabama on Tuesday.  (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga freshman Nolan Hickman makes a pass during a 93-63 win over North Alabama on Tuesday. (Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Gonzaga has proven over the last season and a half it is proficient at handling COVID-19 curveballs to its schedule.

The Zags returned from a 17-day gap between games last season to pummel No. 3 Iowa 99-88 en route to a 31-1 record . They came back from a nine-day span between games earlier this month with a solid win over No. 25 Texas Tech .

Gonzaga thumped North Alabama 93-63 on Tuesday, but Thursday’s WCC opener at San Diego has been called off due to COVID-19 concerns in USD’s program.

“We just get back in the gym, get some reps up, prepare for the next one if they’re available to play,” freshman guard Nolan Hickman said of staying ready.

“Just like last year, we never really knew when we were about to play or a game was about to get canceled,” junior forward Anton Watson added. “We were just focused on the main thing, getting better and getting in the gym.”

Five of seven WCC games on Thursday and Saturday have been postponed. The two still on the schedule: Gonzaga at LMU and San Francisco at Saint Mary’s, both on Saturday.

“We’re doing the best we can,” Zags coach Mark Few said, “but also using common sense and logic, being fully vaccinated.”

Here’s a few more takeaways from Gonzaga’s rout over North Alabama.

Shorter bench

Gonzaga’s bench Tuesday was a little lighter than usual.

Not in terms of available players, but assistant coach Stephen Gentry and coordinator of basketball administration Gary Bell Jr. were among thousands nationwide encountering holiday travel issues. Both were unable to attend Tuesday’s game.

Gentry was on a recruiting trip and flight issues prevented him from returning to Spokane until Tuesday night, Few said.

Bell is still stuck in Seattle after his family went to Phoenix for Christmas break. Bell’s return trip included a stop in Seattle, but his connecting flight to Spokane was canceled.

“When I got here (to Seattle), I should have known it because we had to sit on the runway for like two hours,” said Bell, who watched Tuesday’s game on television. “I thought I’d miss my (next) flight, but the flight attendant said my flight was delayed.”

That information was true, but the flight eventually was canceled. Bell was rebooked on a Monday flight and arrived early at the airport. When he attempted to print his boarding pass at a kiosk, he was referred to customer service.

“I sat through the customer service line and missed my flight,” he said. “As soon as I got to the front, the plane had left.”

Bell’s luggage did make it on the flight, so he’s been without most of his clothes in Seattle. If Thursday’s flight doesn’t happen, Bell said he’ll probably try to fly to Los Angeles to meet up with the Zags before the LMU game.

“I’ve never been in anything like this,” said Bell, who had only missed games during his playing career when he was injured. “So many people in lines, everybody’s flights getting canceled. It’s a zoo.”

He’s thankful for two things: His wife and kids remained in Phoenix and didn’t have to experience his travel woes, and Bell is from the Seattle area so he’s been able to stay with his parents.

“If I was anywhere else I’d probably have to stay at the airport or try to find a room,” Bell said.

Hickman steady off GU’s bench

Hickman had one of his best games of the season with three 3-pointers and 13 points vs. North Alabama. He tops Gonzaga’s non-starters in scoring (7.2) and minutes (21.0).

“I finally got the ball rolling on the 3-ball,” the 6-foot-2 guard from Seattle said. “Felt good out there.”

Hickman has the best assist-to-turnover ratio among rotation regulars. He has 22 assists and seven turnovers in 273 minutes. Even more impressive: Hickman didn’t a commit a turnover in 93 minutes against five ranked opponents (Texas, UCLA, Duke, Alabama and Texas Tech).

“Nolan is a great listener and he’s doing what we ask him to do,” Few said. “For his age and his class, he’s very steady and solid. I have no problem putting him in the heat of a big-time game because we know what we’re going to get.

“He’s tough. He tried to take some charges (vs. North Alabama), we’ve been on him about that, so I see some real growth there.”

Hickman is shooting 50% from the floor, including 35.9% on 3s, and 80% at the free-throw line.

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Follow along with the Zags

Subscribe to our Gonzaga Basketball newsletter to stay up with the latest news.