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Gonzaga Basketball

Analysis: Joel Ayayi makes history, Gonzaga makes quick work of Portland

Gonzaga University guard Joel Ayayi finished his unique night in Portland with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists.  (Associated Press)

Gonzaga’s single-game, season and career record book are going to require some serious editing and the school will have to make room for a new entry authored by do-it-all guard Joel Ayayi.

Ayayi was everywhere and seemingly in the middle of everything during Gonzaga’s 116-88 blowout of Portland on Saturday at the Chiles Center. The French native was so efficient, he produced what is believed to be the first triple-double in program history with 17 minutes remaining in the second half.

Ayayi was that good – he finished with 12 points, 13 rebounds and 14 assists – and his teammates were, too, as the visiting Bulldogs posted their highest point total of the season while surpassing the century mark for the third time.

The night belonged to Ayayi, who stamped his name in the record book with a pass to Andrew Nembhard for a layup for his 10th assist. He didn’t have to deviate from his or the team’s normal style of play to put together his stat line.

“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’s 14 assists rank second on the single-game list behind Blake Stepp’s 16 against Long Beach State in 2002. Gonzaga’s 29 assists tied for third in school history.

“My teammates were doing a great job on ball screens, transition … of being open,” said Ayayi, who has four double-doubles in the past five games. “It was almost my job to hit them, they were that open a bunch of times. If somebody else had the ball I’m sure they would have hit them, too.”

Portland (6-5, 0-2) stayed close for the first 5 minutes, but couldn’t keep up when Ayayi and the Zags (12-0, 3-0 West Coast Conference) hit their stride at the offensive end.

If you were among the Gonzaga fans unable to watch the opening minutes because the Seattle-Los Angeles NFL game ran late on KAYU, here’s a quick recap: GU scored on a layup, a drive to the rim, layup, easy bucket inside and, you guessed it, another layup.

That pattern continued long after the Zags found their way onto the TV screen as they put up 56 first-half points without making a 3-pointer.

Gonzaga moved on top 31-18 after a 20-7 spurt capped by Corey Kispert’s offensive rebound and basket. At that juncture, 26 of GU’s 31 points had come in the paint. That figure grew to a whopping 80 by game’s end, a season high by eight points.

Forwards Drew Timme and Anton Watson exploited an advantage inside against the Pilots’ smaller front court. Timme repeatedly caught entry passes within 5 feet of the hoop and scored 19 of his 26 points in the opening half. Watson finished with 23 points in 24 minutes. He made 8 of 9 shots and 6 of 7 free throws.

The Zags’ paint domination had a variety of sources. They had success in transition and off turnovers, but often it was a matter of dribble penetration or cuts that led to easy, often uncontested buckets at the rim.

“It wasn’t necessarily mismatches (inside) all the time,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It was guys just making the right basketball plays and right reads at the end of our actions and, again, the willingness of the group to share it and move it.

“Many of those (baskets) were not straight post-ups or high-lows, like we’ve been known for quite a while. That’s the neat thing about it, I don’t know how you scout it because it’s not set plays. It’s just guys playing and making the right reads.”

Seven Zags reached double figures, including Kispert’s 14 points and freshman wing Julian Strawther’s season-high 12. Gonzaga shot 63% from the field, 75.5% inside the arc.

Senior guard Aaron Cook played 11 minutes after missing the past two games with a leg injury.

Freshman Ben Gregg, who joined the team roughly three weeks ago, scored his first points as a Zag with a putback in the closing minute.

Guard Ahmed Ali, who started 24 games at Washington State in 2019, scored a team-high 19 points for the Pilots, who had a nice offensive effort with 13 3-pointers and five players in double figures.