The games have stopped for now, but not the work.
No. 1 Gonzaga traditionally has a pair of lengthy breaks – one following the regular-season finale and its West Coast Conference Tournament opener and another between Las Vegas and the NCAA Tournament.
The Bulldogs are in a nine-day window from Saturday’s win against Loyola Marymount and taking the court Monday night in the WCC Tournament semifinals at Orleans Arena.
“This is just a time for us to continually get better behind closed doors and put the work in,” freshman point guard Jalen Suggs said. “One thing I’ve really been working on is jump shots, repping it out and getting a ton of shots up. In doing that, my jump shot is going to feel a lot better.
“Just working on going into every day and getting 1% better until we step on the floor the next time.”
Suggs has filled the stat sheet, making 58.4% inside the arc and averaging 13.9 points, 5.5 rebounds, 4.5 assists and 2.0 steals. He misfired on his last six 3-point attempts in the past three games, but finished the regular season with 23 made 3s, fourth on the team with 33.3% accuracy.
The Zags don’t know who they’ll face Monday night, so they’re zeroing in on themselves.
“It’s a good period of rest for all of us and kind of recharge the batteries for the big final push,” senior wing Corey Kispert said. “Really, we have to look in the mirror and nitpick our game personally and as a team. We have to get better on the glass, rebounding, get better defensively as a team, just little things here and there.
“It’s really nice because practices aren’t really focused on the other team and what they do. It’s all about us. It leads to a lot of competition.”
Gonzaga (24-0) became the fourth Division I program during coach Mark Few’s 22 years at the helm to finish the regular season undefeated.
Only 19 teams have entered the NCAA Tournament unbeaten in the event’s 81-year history. Seven claimed national titles, with Indiana the last to post a perfect season in 1976.
“We’re just looking to go out every night to get a win on that night, not looking too far ahead, not looking at games in the past,” Suggs said. “Obviously, it would be great, but I think a lot of that (pressure) just comes from outside noise. We’re really focused on being in the moment, enjoying every game and every last practice and moment together.”
It’s been challenging to play a basketball season during a pandemic, from endless COVID-19 tests to rarely seeing family and friends. Gonzaga players have spent months living somewhat in isolation on campus and this week they’re staying in a hotel to reduce COVID risks before leaving Sunday for Las Vegas.
Suggs’ had family members attend GU games in Florida, Iowa and Spokane. He expects a few relatives to be in Las Vegas, even though they won’t be allowed inside Orleans Arena due to safety protocols, and more to attend the NCAA Tournament in the Indianapolis.
“We get swabbed (tested) almost every day and it sucks,” Suggs said. “The biggest sacrifice is easily just family and friends. Before the season, I was hopeful that I’d have family out here almost in rotation with friends for all of our home games. To have nobody able to come at all, that was really hard.
“I’ve seen my family … but there are a lot of people I was used to seeing on an everyday basis that I haven’t seen almost since August.”
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