LAS VEGAS – For the first time this season, Gonzaga played in an unfamiliar setting, taking the court at T-Mobile Arena after four consecutive games in Spokane. But almost everything else about the Bulldogs was familiar as they rolled up 56 first-half points, dominated the paint and made things painfully uncomfortable for their opponent on the other end of the floor.
It’s unclear what it means for Tuesday’s showdown between the country’s two top-ranked teams, but No. 1 Gonzaga was much more convincing in its Vegas debut than No. 2 UCLA, cruising to a 107-54 win over Central Michigan in front of 7,029 fans on the Las Vegas strip.
Potentially more meaningful than that, Gonzaga’s starters got ample rest less than 24 hours before Tuesday’s Final Four rematch against the Bruins, which is set to tip off at 7 p.m. (ESPN). No Gonzaga starter logged more than 25 minutes against Central Michigan and four of the five played 20 minutes or less.
Earlier in the night, UCLA narrowly outscored Bellarmine in the second half to beat the Knights 75-62 in their final tuneup before Tuesday’s game. The Bulldogs handled the Knights 92-50 when the teams met on Friday at McCarthey Athletic Center. Four of UCLA’s starters played at least 25 minutes against Bellarmine and two of them logged 30-plus minutes.
“I thought everybody that got in there, including what we call the white squad there at the end that we practice against every day, they did a nice job,” Few said. “I think it’s a good trend for us. We’ve been really, really good defensively in the first halves pretty much all year, then these last second halves have been excellent for us. These last two.”
Chet Holmgren won the opening tip and rolled to the rim before receiving a pass from Rasir Bolton to convert a layup and register the first of his 10 first-half points, leading a Gonzaga team that used a score-by-committee approach against the undermatched Chippewas.
Holmgren showed his full range of tools, going 2 of 4 from beyond the arc, 3 of 3 from the free throw line and converting an array of mid-range baskets, dunks and layups. He also had five rebounds, two assists and three blocks.
“I thought Chet was huge … against the biggest, longest physical team we’ve played, I thought our bigs did a nice job attacking them and putting (them in) foul trouble,” Few said.
The Bulldogs got to the foul line plenty and through a mix of fast-break opportunities and assisted buckets underneath the rim, they were also able to put on a clinic down low, outscoring the Chippewas 58-10 in paint points.
Each of the nine Bulldogs who got on the court in the first half scored at least four points and Gonzaga’s reserves (18 points) almost entered the break with as many points as Central Michigan’s starters (19).
Holmgren finished with a game-high 19 points on 7-of-9 shooting, but four other Zags reached double figures with freshman guard Nolan Hickman scoring 16, Vegas native Julian Strawther adding 15 and Drew Timme and Bolton both chipping in 11.
“That’s one of the beautiful things about our team, anybody can step up, we’re real deep,” Holmgren said. “It’s not going to be one person’s night every single night.”
As a team, Gonzaga went 42 of 73 (57%) from the field despite making just 19 of 32 (28%) from the three-point line. The Bulldogs also outrebounded the Chippewas 50-23 and held Central Michigan to 17 of 56 (39%) from the field.
Gonzaga’s big first half, one in which the Bulldogs led by as many as 26 points, was spurred by a 17-0 run, but Few’s team closed the game as well as they started it. With a lineup of exclusively bench players and reserves on the floor, the Bulldogs held Central Michigan to four points inside the game’s final 6:15 and outscored the Chippewas 14-0 from the 6:15 mark to 1:33 mark.
Timme came out of the game for good with nearly 16 minutes remaining in the second half, and Holmgren was pulled with 12:46 remaining. Gonzaga’s reserves scored 46 total points, just eight fewer than the Chippewas as a team.
“It was great to be able to spread the minutes out for all the guys that have been working so hard,” Few said, “and I thought everybody that got in there did a nice job.”
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