It’s always gratifying to watch Gonzaga’s basketball team play on ESPN, the gold standard of sports broadcasting. But there are issues at times, mainly late or starts moved to other channels due to the network jamming games in two-hour windows.
Thankfully, that didn’t happen Saturday night as the game prior to GU’s yearly visit to Saint Mary’s was over in plenty of time for the tipoff.
Thanks, BYU and USF. Everyone in America got to watch the Zags’ early struggles against the Gaels and, at least east of the Mississippi, might have been asleep before top-ranked GU woke up, eventually winning 73-59.
Through it all we were entertained by ESPN personalities familiar with the Bay Area, play-by-play voice Dave Flemming and analyst Sean Farnham.
What they saw …
• At first, just what we all saw. The Zags were, as Farnham said, “rushing” on offense, without much success. Eleven minutes into the game, Saint Mary’s, which doesn’t rush even when it is behind by double digits, was efficient. The Gaels (9-5 overall, 0-3 in West Coast Conference play, all at home) had the Zags “frantic” on defense and were shooting better than 50% .
They led 22-12 at that point.
Gonzaga was scrambling. So much so, Mark Few went to an odd lineup with a little less than 8 minutes left in the half and Saint Mary’s still up seven. The five Bulldogs on the court: Andrew Nembhard, Aaron Cook, Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert and Oumar Ballo.
“Not a lineup the Zags have used a lot,” Flemming said. “Mark Few is kind of searching.”
He found the answer, as Gonzaga (14-0, 5-0) went on a 20-3 run before halftime and then put together another quick run to start the second half.
“As expected, quite honestly, you and I talked at halftime,” Farnham said, “and you kind of just felt the second half was going to have a flip of the switch.”
• It wasn’t just Farnham and Flemming in UCU Pavilion representing ESPN.
Mike Schmitz, who does NBA draft analysis for the network, was also in attendance and joined the broadcast in the second half. He had thoughts on the Zags’ Jalen Suggs, Kispert and Ayayi.
Suggs: “He’s the best player on the best team in the country, at 19,” Schmitz said. He highlighted the freshman point guard’s competitiveness and toughness and said he expected Suggs to be among the top four picks in the draft.
Kispert: “He’s plug and play in the NBA,” said Schmitz, comparing Kispert to another Washington high school prospect, Chelan’s Joe Harris, who just signed a reported $75 million contract with Brooklyn.
Ayayi: The most important comment Schmitz had on the guard whose profile has been raised by leaps and bounds this season was simple. Ayayi would be helped by another year in school. That probably sounds great to Gonzaga fans.
By the way, Drew Timme, who had another efficient outing with 14 points on six shots, was not mentioned.
What we saw …
• There is an obligatory segment in every ESPN broadcast of the Bulldogs. Can Gonzaga finish undefeated?
Farnham is on the record as saying he thinks the Zags will, including in the postseason. He hasn’t changed his tune. Now he has a trusted voice in college hoops in his corner.
“I don’t think anyone can beat Gonzaga,” veteran Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said this week, a quote that made its way into a second-half graphic. “I’ve never seen a team (so far ahead) since UCLA when John Wooden was there.”
• Suggs didn’t have his best night. He didn’t shoot well, hitting just 5 of 12 from the floor, including missing all three 3-pointers. He turned the ball over five times. He seemed lost on defense at times. And he had more than the occasional conversation with referee Chris Rastatter, which puts him in pretty typical company among West Coast players.
“Jalen Suggs, this has been a frustrating night for him,” Flemming said in the second half, a point he reiterated two more times before the final buzzer. “He’s done some good things, but it’s been far from perfect for the superstar freshman.”
Other than an early second-half spurt, when he drove the Zags to a double-digit lead, Suggs did seem frustrated and his body language showed it. So did the look on his face during a couple of tight shots ESPN showed.
Farnham had a few thoughts to share about Suggs at one point, but a glitch in the sound made it impossible to hear his comments. He did, however, have fun with Schmitz questioning Suggs’ length, especially late in the game when the 6-foot-4 guard blocked a close-in shot from 6-8 forward Kyle Bowen.
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