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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

TV take: Gonzaga made its win over BYU look easy with free flowing offense and star-level players

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 13, 2022

By Vince Grippi For The Spokesman-Review

As the clock wound down in Gonzaga’s surprisingly easy victory over West Coast Conference rival BYU on Thursday night, ESPN2 analyst Jay Bilas finished off his almost unending praise of the Zags’ offense.

And spent a little time with Dave Flemming talking about a late-game free throw. Why? It was taken by Joe Few, the head coach’s son who was looking for his first point in a Gonzaga uniform.

“I promise you Mark Few is nervous right now,” Bilas said, before the younger Few made the second one to put a bow on GU’s 110-84 victory – and earn a fist pump from his dad.

The little byplay illustrated something few would have thought would happen but did. Gonzaga’s 61st consecutive home win was one of the most dominating.

What they saw …

• This wasn’t the first time Bilas has seen Chet Holmgren in person, mainly because the ESPN analyst wasn’t in the McCarthey Athletic Center.

He and Flemming were at their homes – which made Flemming’s halftime comment, “It’s been a fun environment inside the Kennel,” odd in that he couldn’t really know – a common occurrence in the COVID-19 era.

What everyone in Spokane really knows is how good Holmgren is. Bilas spent the entire first half talking like a Zags fan about the newest Topps all-star.

“How would you like to be a big man and have to guard that,” Bilas asked after Holmgren nailed a transition 3-pointer – one of 10 GU had before halftime.

“There is nothing he cannot do,” Bilas said a bit later. “He’s just strength away from being a complete player.”

“A spin move, at 7-(foot)-1, going up with his left hand, how do you stop that?” asked Bilas after Holmgren did just that.

Heck, Holmgren, who finished with 12 points and seven rebounds, was so impressive his reverse slam, in which it looked as if he didn’t jump, only earned a “nice cut” comment from Bilas.

• The game began with both teams making the nets sing, with both shooting better than 60% for the first quarter of the game. Then BYU (14-4, 2-1 WCC) cooled down.

Bilas was quick to credit the Gonzaga (13-2, 2-0) defense, something he feels they have been improving upon as Few attracts another – read higher – level of recruit. Including you know who.

“Chet Holmgren has been protecting the rim – he has five blocks in this game and, I don’t know, how many changed shots he’s accounted for,” said Bilas while explain the GU defense. “I think that would be an interesting stat if you could chart how many shots he changes with his presence by the rim.”

Why is that important? Let Bilas explain.

“It gives every Gonzaga defender the feeling they can really get out and guard their guy on the perimeter without fear because he’s back there,” he said.

But Bilas also mentioned Rasir Bolton, who had the job of shadowing BYU’s leading scorer, Alex Barcello, and Andrew Nembhard, whose defense turned into offense way too often for the Cougars’ liking.

• It was Nembhard’s offense, however, that drew Bilas’ scrutiny.

“If there is a better pick-and-roll decision maker in college basketball,” Bilas said, “I haven’t seen him.”

It showed in the statistics as Nembhard, the senior point guard, not only scored 22 points but handed out 12 assists, many of them to Drew Timme.

Timme led everyone with 30 points, hitting 13 of 14 shots as Gonzaga, despite a bunch of time without a starter on the floor, shot 69% from the field.

What we saw …

• Many Gonzaga games wind down with the Kennel Club chanting, “We want tacos.” And oftentimes it’s a walk-on who delivers the free food given out whenever the Bulldogs make 10 3-pointers.

But we’re not sure they’ve ever chanted for fast food in the first half as they did in this one.

There it was, though, when Bolton connected on a pull-up 23-footer with 3 minutes, 32 seconds before halftime. That shot not only gave the second-ranked Zags a 53-35 lead but gave them nine 3-pointers.

The chant began and was rewarded by Nolan Hickman. The freshman’s long shot with 1:43 gave them 10 (in 15 attempts). And made the students happy.

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