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Gonzaga Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

TV Take: ESPN crew documents rare off-night for Jalen Suggs as Gonzaga thumps Pepperdine

UPDATED: Sat., Jan. 30, 2021

By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

Before they took the court at the Firestone Fieldhouse, it wasn’t a good day for the Gonzaga Bulldogs. Many of the schools on which they’ve built their stellar resume had already gone down to defeat, including the lead-in game on ESPN, a 19-point loss for Kansas.

Then the Zags, as has been their habit lately, started slowly, falling behind host Pepperdine by nine just 4 minutes in. No matter.

As Dave Flemming and Sean Farnham looked on remotely, the Zags put together an impressive first-half run – with freshman point guard Jalen Suggs mainly on the bench in foul trouble – en route to a 97-75 victory.

What they saw …

• Pepperdine, coming off a midweek three-point win over BYU, did about everything right early, building a quick 16-7 lead. There was one play that illustrated the struggles the top-ranked Zags were enduring, and it explained part of why Suggs played so sparingly.

The freshman point guard, who is actually second in assists on GU behind Andrew Nembhard, triggered a fastbreak with Joel Ayayi early in the half.

But … well, let’s let Farnham describe the ensuing play.

“That’s a two-on-one situation, Jalen Suggs,” Farnham said, expressing some amazement as the replay rolled. “Jump stop, drop it down and allow Ayayi to finish. But you go straight into the defensive player. It’s an easy call.”

Suggs was whistled for a charge, negating an easy chance for the Bulldogs (17-0, 8-0 in West Coast Conference play) to cut into the Waves’ lead. Of course, being who he is, Suggs stole a pass during the ensuing Pepperdine (7-8, 3-3) possession and went the length of a court for a dunk.

The foul, however, ultimately sent him to the bench. Another, midway through the half, sat him until halftime.

He played 8 minutes. And yet, when intermission came, Gonzaga led 49-34.

• Suggs ultimately only played 18 minutes before fouling out late, as the second half was, in some ways, worse than the first. Though, while he was picking up two more fouls in six seconds, Flemming and Farnham were way too busy taking a walk down a Malibu beach, figuratively, to let us know.

They had just shared the information Farnham spent some time on Pepperdine’s coaching staff at the turn of the century. They were running down the Waves’ great players over the years, the facilities, everything but what was happening on the court.

By the time Flemming caught us up, Suggs was on the bench, showing his disdain for the whistles that sent him there.

“By the way, the only player in history who’s ever been to Malibu and absolutely hated it is Jalen Suggs,” Flemming said.

• A 16-0 Bulldogs run, one that stretched to 21-2, changed the tone of the game. And a big part of the tone change was supplied by Aaron Cook.

The senior transfer from Southern Illinois had his most impactful minutes for Gonzaga, scoring 12 first-half points and turning up the defensive pressure. He finished with 15 points on 6-of-8 shooting.

“Aaron Cook has taken over this game,” Flemming said as Cook was sparking the game-deciding spurt.

“The game changed when he took the floor,” Farnham pointed out just before the second half began.

What we saw …

• Kansas, Virginia and Auburn have a couple of things in common. All lost to the Bulldogs in nonconference play, and all lost Saturday by double digits.

Those results couldn’t have helped the Zags’ strength of schedule metrics.

• The pandemic has had a huge impact on college basketball, obviously.

Just checking the schedule each day – the Zags were on ESPN instead of ESPN2 due to Kentucky having to pull out of its game with Texas – makes that clear.

But there are other, less intrusive, impacts that pop up on a daily basis.

Take the setup in Malibu. The folks in charge of administrating the game, including the official scorer, were spread out on the south side of the court.

The two benches, however, were socially distanced on the north side. So how did players check in to the game?

That wasn’t answered, but attentive fans were able to hear much of what was being said on the court. No fake crowd noise for ESPN.

“This almost has the sound and feel of a summer-league game,” Flemming said at one point.

With a little more interest, and a bit more interesting conversation.

One possession in the second half, as Gonzaga had a run out, you could hear someone yell, “Slow it down!” Corey Kispert pulled up and took a long 3-pointer.

Later, when Suggs returned for a late-game stint and scored, you could hear the bench saying, “Hey, hey, hey.”

Farnham and Flemming noticed.

“This team has fun,” said Farnham, chuckling at the sarcastic nature of the comments.

The most fun they had came late, as Anton Watson drove baseline and threw down a one-hand slam over a helpless Wave. It brought the bench off its feet.

And, as Flemming and Farnham pointed out, helped the Zags cover the 20-point spread.

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