Gonzaga was involved in college basketball’s biggest headline Wednesday afternoon and the Bulldogs avoided being a part of another one later the same night, cruising past Warner Pacific 101-70 without much trouble to get an exhibition win on the board five days before the season opener.
Four hours after ESPN reported on a meeting between Gonzaga Athletic Director Chris Standiford and Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark regarding a potential move to the conference, the Bulldogs tended to the immediate future, making last-minute tweaks and fixes before they enter one of the most challenging nonconference schedules in program history.
The Bulldogs officially open the season Monday against North Florida (6 p.m., SWX) before traveling to San Diego for Friday’s Armed Forces Classic against Michigan State (3:30 p.m., ESPN) on the flight deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln.
Both of Gonzaga’s preseason exhibitions came with valuable teaching lessons that should benefit the Bulldogs in the long run, but unlike Friday’s 99-80 loss to No. 11 Tennessee it was never a question of whether GU would secure a victory but rather how polished the Zags would look against a less talented NAIA opponent.
They fared well for the most part, forcing 18 turnovers, scoring 27 fast-break points and holding the Knights to a 38.2% shooting clip while leading by as many as 34 points in the second half.
“In the first half I feel like we got out in transition, forced turnovers,” junior wing Julian Strawther said. “I feel like going into the season that was something we wanted to do a lot.
Drew Timme cut to the hoop for a reverse dunk on Gonzaga’s second possession, Nolan Hickman drilled a wing 3-pointer on the third and the Bulldogs raced out to a 12-0 lead before Warner Pacific scored its opening basket 3 minutes, 3 seconds into the game.
One of four Bulldogs in double figures, Timme finished with an exhibition-high 21 points on 9-of-11 shooting while grabbing eight rebounds. Malachi Smith had 16 points on 7-of-10 shooting, Julian Strawther had 13 points and Nolan Hickman chipped in 11.
But improved defensive intensity and rebounding may have been the best signals for a GU team that conceded a 33-23 advantage on the glass to Tennessee while allowing the Volunteers to shoot 57% from the field and 46% from the 3-point line.
“I thought we got out, there was a couple things we asked them to do, asked them to pressure the ball better than we did in the Tennessee game,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Then we asked them to get on the glass. I think they did a nice job on the glass, too. So, those were kind of the things we asked them to do and I’d give them a good grade on that.
“Then we had stretches of kind of really good things, then we just had stretches of really bad things. Playing a lot of guys, trying to get them all out there and hopefully we can eliminate most of the bad stuff and accentuate the good stuff moving forward.”
Twelve GU players saw floor time and nine played more than 10 minutes.
The highlights included a pair of dunks from Hunter Sallis, who finished with six steals and turned two of those into one-handed jams at the other end of the court. Seven Zags had at least five rebounds and GU finished with 53, including 20 on the offensive glass.
The lowlights were Gonzaga’s 3-point shooting (9 for 31) and free-throw shooting (14 for 27). Warner Pacific, only outscored 43-40 in the second half, also strung together two big scoring runs – 13-0 late in the first half and 10-0 early in the second.
The Knights were led by Isaac Etter’s 16 points while three other players had 10 apiece.
“I’d just say we’ve got a long ways to go,” Few said. “Hopefully, we can kind of stay on a growth path with these guys. It’s a very different team than last year and we’re not even close to being where we hope to be, but we’ve got a long ways to go.”
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