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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga thumps underdog Vikings, solves pressure defense in 102-78 victory

Nov. 24, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 25, 2022 at 3:08 p.m.

PORTLAND – Gonzaga had most of Thanksgiving Day to watch college basketball games, chow down on dinner – pasta and chicken, not turkey – and witness several warning signals before taking the court.

Top-ranked North Carolina trailed deep into the second half before edging 15.5-point underdog Portland 89-81 in the Phil Knight Invitational. A few hours later, No. 8 Duke, favored by 21.5 points, held off Oregon State 54-51 in the PK Legacy. The same Oregon State team that lost five days before by 13 to Portland State, a 27.5-point underdog to Gonzaga in the Legacy bracket finale late Thursday night.

No wake-up call was necessary for the sixth-ranked Zags, who seized control midway through first half and cruised to a 102-78 victory over the Vikings at Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

“Hopefully that shows those people that think it’s easy coasting for us in our league, hopefully that wakes up a lot of people,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Portland played a heck of a game and was in position to win it, and obviously Oregon State was, too.

“There’s good teams out here and if you’re not quite ready to go or at your best, you’re at risk of getting knocked off. I think that kind of helped us firm up our approach.”

Gonzaga (4-1) will face No. 24 Purdue in the semifinals at 8:30 p.m. Friday in the Moda Center. The Boilermakers handled West Virginia 80-68 behind 7-foot-4, 290-pound Zach Edey’s 24 points and 12 rebounds. It should be an interesting matchup: Edey versus GU All-American Drew Timme with Anton Watson also an option at the defensive end on the Purdue center.

Gonzaga played small-ball for a sizable chunk of the first half and had stretches where they scored at will while building a 55-31 halftime lead. They were equally efficient with Timme and Watson on the court together.

The Zags, after committing four early turnovers, got quality looks on virtually every possession. PSU (2-3) couldn’t slow dribble penetration or prevent open 3-point looks. The Vikings didn’t have much luck inside either as Watson and Timme combined to go 5 of 5 in the opening half.

“Obviously 11 turnovers in a high-possession game against a team that really tries to turn you over … that’s not an easy team to play against,” Few said. “They’re in your face for 40 minutes and switching everything and you basically can’t run any of your offensive sets. We did a great job handling that.”

Gonzaga’s hot shooting – 65.6% overall, 57.1% from distance in the first half – was the product of improvisation and good ball movement in half court and in transition.

The Zags finished with 24 assists, many on kick-out passes to open guards, after registering 8, 10 and 8 in their previous three games vs. Michigan State, Texas and Kentucky.

The Vikings’ defensive game plan is relentless ball pressure, at times for 94 feet. The Zags had stretches in each half with careless turnovers, but more they made PSU pay for tight coverage on the perimeter.

“That’s what makes this team special,” said senior guard Malachi Smith, who had 23 points in 25 minutes and drained all five of his 3-point attempts, matching his career high for made 3s. “We have multiple players that can do multiple things. I just saw an opportunity and we have great shooters everywhere. So just driving, it’s hard for the defense to help when we have 50% shooters on the perimeter.”

Six Zags reached double figures and Nolan Hickman finished with nine points and four assists. Rasir Bolton set a career high with eight assists and added 14 points in 30 turnover-free minutes.

Timme made 7 of 8 shots and scored 18 points. Watson and Julian Strawther each contributed 10 points. Hunter Sallis had 12 points and a career-high six assists.

The Zags led by 27 after Hickman’s 3-pointer in the first minute of the second half, but PSU kept battling. The Vikings cut the margin to 16 with 7:41 left and again with 4:30 remaining.

“We competed all night long but we had a bad stretch in the first half where they exposed a lot of mistakes we made and they’re really good at that,” Portland State coach Jase Coburn said. “They’ve got really talented guards that can get to the paint and play an unselfish brand of basketball. They got the ball moving on us quite a bit, something we tried to take away and we weren’t able to do.”

Jorell Saterfield led PSU with 21 points and Cameron Parker added 16 points and eight assists.

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