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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

TV Take: Long layoff fazes top-seeded Gonzaga for a few minutes before blowing out Norfolk State in NCAA first round

March 20, 2021 Updated Sat., March 20, 2021 at 10:44 p.m.

By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

It had been 11 days since the Gonzaga Bulldogs wrapped up a perfect regular season, rallying past BYU in the West Coast Conference Tournament final.

The layoff seemed to carry over early on as they faced play-in game survivor and No. 16 seed Norfolk State at Bankers Life Arena on Saturday night.

Or, as play-by-play voice Brian Anderson said as the second half was about to begin with GU holding a 20-point lead: “The Gonzaga Bulldogs, it took them about 8 minutes to settle into this game, but now they are looking every bit of a No. 1 seed.”

And that continued until the final buzzer as Gonzaga breezed into the tournament’s second round with a 98-55 victory.

What they saw …

• In a weird way, Anderson and analyst Jim Jackson, working the game on TBS, explained why the 27-0 Zags are so hard to handle even while they were talking about Jalen Suggs’ less-than-stellar first NCAA game.

Saddled with early fouls, the freshman Suggs played just 9 minutes in the first half and 18 overall. And his stat line wasn’t what Gonzaga fans have come to expect with six points, two assists and four turnovers.

“Suggs has had a bit of uneven game here, Jimmy,” Anderson understated early in the second half, just before Suggs picked up his third foul.

That sparked a lengthy soliloquy from Jackson, a freshman star at Ohio State some 30 years ago. He talked about Suggs’ future. He talked about his impact on Gonzaga. And he talked about how he was responding to the poor start.

“The level of maturity that he’s shown when the game is not going his way is, I think, very important,” said Jackson, who also had a long NBA career, “because he’s not out here hunting for shots, trying to prove what the scouts are saying (is true).

“He’s refrained from doing that.”

As Suggs went to the bench again with his third foul, Anton Watson stepped in. Just as he had done in the first half when, as Anderson described it, he was “outstanding.”

The minutes Suggs usually plays went, in large part, to the sophomore from Gonzaga Prep. In the first 20 minutes, Watson delivered with eight points, five rebounds, a steal and numerous touches.

When Watson rose up and buried a corner 3-pointer to give GU a 40-point lead with 9:25 left, Anderson gave him his due.

“What a night Anton Watson is having,” he said, before listing his 7-for-7 shooting, his seven rebounds and three assists. He ended with 17 points.

• The NCAA Tournament is a billion-dollar enterprise, all brought to us via CBS and its broadcast partners, TBS, TNT and TruTV.

But even billions of dollars can’t guarantee all the equipment will work. Just ask Jackson.

Just as he was getting started with his pregame analysis, Jackson’s microphone stopped working. As in nothing.

Anderson had to quickly step in, add some thoughts and nimbly throw it to Allie LaForce, who filled in admirably from her spot on the sideline.

Later in the first half, Anderson started to give his analyst a hard time about the blackout. But Jackson swatted the shot right back.

“I just figured you cut me off,” he said before the action intervened.

• LaForce interviewed Corey Kispert afterward and the Zags’ leading scorer, with 23 points, talked about the slow start – “It took us a few minutes to get our legs underneath us” – his family in attendance (focusing on his grandmother as a “good luck charm, a spark plug if you will”) and why the Zags can finish the season 32-0 – “We play for each other.”

• Everyone misses one once in a while. It’s just not often that miss is so bad the announcer is fooled.

When Joe Bryant launched a 3-pointer a little more than six minutes into the game, the Spartans had been shooting pretty well from long range. This one, however, was so short it just tickled the bottom of the net before hitting out of bounds.

Anderson, however, must have been distracted. Or his announcing position didn’t allow him a good view. Because, despite the obvious miss, he got excited.

“Bryant knocks down a 3,” he said, talking over Johnson. “The 3-point shooting is on point early for Norfolk State.” Then there was silence. For seven seconds, more than likely while the producer told Anderson it was nearly an air ball. “So, a whiff for Bryant,” Anderson said before covering his tracks by sharing the Spartans’ 3-point shooting stats.

What we saw …

• Gene Steratore explains NFL officiating for CBS. And he double-dips doing the same on the NCAA broadcasts. He’s qualified, having officiated both sports before moving to the broadcast arena.

But getting the calls right, or at least the same way the game crew see it, that’s always a work in progress.

He entered the fray 12 minutes in after Joel Ayayi had doubled over following a poke. A well-after-a-made-3-point-shot poke from Mustafa Lawrence into Ayayi’s midsection.

The officiating crew, Pac-12 veteran Michael Reed, Joseph Lindsay and Clarence Armstrong, decided to review the play to see if it was a flagrant foul on Norfolk State (17-8).

Enter Steratore, the guy who replaced Mike Carey on CBS’ NFL games. The joke about Carey then was, no matter what he said, the opposite would occur.

Such was the case here. Steratore, mentioning unnecessary and unwarranted contact, thought it would be ruled a flagrant. It wasn’t.

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