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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga’s Ryan Nembhard scores 22 points, bounces back from rough shooting stretch

Gonzaga guard Ryan Nembhard, who scored 22 points, shoots against Cal State Bakersfield during the Zags’ 81-65 home win Tuesday.  (By Colin Mulvany/The Spokesman-Review)

Ryan Nembhard’s first shot was a 3-pointer that settled in the net with the game barely 60 seconds old.

His second attempt was a pretty fadeaway jumper, quickly followed by a smooth step-back to clear space from a defender.

By the end of his 36-plus minutes on the court Tuesday, Nembhard had connected on eight field goals, two 3-pointers and four free throws for 22 points – his highest-scoring game of the young season – to lead the Zags past Cal State Bakersfield.

After a rough start with his shooting accuracy in Gonzaga’s first five games, Nembhard figured it was only a matter of time before his stroke returned.

“It feels good,” Nembhard said after connecting on 8 of 12 field-goal attempts (66.7%). “I’ve been playing college basketball for three years now. I just had a slow start to the season. I know shots are going to fall.

“That’s part of the reason why I came here, just knowing the coaching staff is going to have trust in me taking those shots. I feel like I got some good ones tonight. Yeah, I think it’s good for the confidence going forward.”

The timing is favorable with the 11th-ranked Zags set to face USC on Saturday in Las Vegas.

Nembhard hit a couple of floaters in the lane and added his second 3-pointer with 3:40 remaining after the Roadrunners had trimmed a 22-point deficit to 13.

“I’m glad we got him and Nolan (Hickman) a little bit of a break. It’d be nice to get a little more separation to get them a little more (rest),” GU head coach Mark Few said. “I thought he was solid. He did a better job of taking, especially his 3s, were the right ones and he was on balance.”

Nembhard was just 12 of 38 from the field, including 1 of 13 3-pointers, as GU went 2-1 at the Maui Invitational. He hit 47% of his shots inside the arc in two seasons at Creighton and connected on 35.6% from distance last year, another indication that the law of averages would come into play.

“Mainly just missing shots,” Nembhard said of the previous five games. “It’s a miss-or-make game. I had a little slump in the first five, hopefully, there’s not another one.”

Nembhard paces the Zags in assists at 5.3 per game. No surprise there after the 6-foot guard averaged 4.6 assists in 64 career games for Creighton.

The junior point guard handed out five assists against Cal State Bakersfield. He had two turnovers on the stat sheet, but the first was a nifty pass that sailed through the hands of a teammate.