GU vs BYU

Gonzaga guards Jalen Suggs (1), Joel Ayayi (left) and forward Drew Timme (2) transition on offense in the Zag's 86-69 win against BYU Thursday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

In the second game of its West Coast Conference (WCC) season, the Gonzaga Bulldogs(11-0, 2-0) defeated the BYU Cougars (9-3, 0-1) 86-69 Thursday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

The Bulldogs were originally scheduled to face the Santa Clara Broncos Thursday night, but due to COVID-19 protocols put in place by the WCC as well as Santa Clara protocols, the matchup between the Bulldogs and Broncos was canceled. Looking for an opponent to play, BYU filled the hole left by the Broncos, and BYU head coach Mark Pope praised GU head coach Mark Few and the Zags for getting this game.

“When everything else fails, the one coach and program in America that you know is going to be like, ‘Bring it, man, we’re not scared,’ is the Zags,” Pope said in a Deseret News article Wednesday.

Prior to the matchup between the two WCC powerhouses, the Zags defeated the University of San Francisco Dons 85-62 in the team’s WCC opener. Forward Corey Kispert finished the night with 26 points on 9/11 shooting from the field, complemented by Joel Ayayi's double-double and 14 points off the bench from Andrew Nembhard.

The Cougars are playing their first matchup since Dec. 23 when they matched up against Weber State, 87-79. Purdue transfer Matt Haarms finished with 15 points on 6/9 shooting from the field against Weber State.

“You need to come out and play like that because we know BYU is going to bring it,” Few said.

In the beginning of the contest, the Cougars looked like they hadn't played since Dec. 23. Starting the game 1 of 10 from the field along with six turnovers, the poor start from the Cougars resulted in a 23-4 lead for the Bulldogs. After a three point basket from the Cougars and prior to the second media timeout, Nembhard nailed a three point attempt, giving the Zags a 30-7 lead halfway through the first half.

Jalen Suggs highlighted the first half with a cross court pass to Ayayi leading to a bucket. ESPN color commentator Sean Farnham compared GU to the No. 1 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide, comparing Suggs to Alabama QB Mac Jones, and like Jones and Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, Suggs controlled the game, making the proper reads on the court and putting his team in the best position to win.

The former dual-threat high school quarterback showcased his strong arm with that assist to Ayayi, and with the college football championship between Alabama and Ohio State around the corner showcased by Jones and Fields, Suggs said his arm and passing ability is something teams must take note of going forward. 

“Confidence has to do with it,” Suggs said. “It's a real asset that teams have to prepare for.”

Towards the end of the first half, the Zags would finish the half on a 13-3 run, giving the Zags a 52-29 lead heading into the locker room. Kispert led all scorers with 11 points, followed by nine points off the bench from Nembhard. Ayayi, Drew Timme and Suggs each had eight points, while Haarms led BYU with seven points after the first 20 minutes.

To start the second half, GU increased its lead to 62-40 after multiple turnovers from the Cougars. BYU finished the game with 16 turnovers, twice as many as the Zags, and the Zags scored 25 points off those turnovers compared to the seven points off turnovers from the Cougars.

Later on in the second half, the Zags would extend their lead to 30 points after buckets from Kispert, Suggs and Kispert again. The senior forward led the Bulldogs with 23 points on 9 of 16 shooting from the field and two of five from behind the three point arc.

Suggs finished with 16 points complemented by five rebounds and five assists. Timme and Nembhard finished with 12 points each.

For the Cougars, Haarms led BYU in scoring with 13 points. Freshman Caleb Lohner had 13 points of his own, and Richard Harward and Gideon George had 12 and 11 respectively. The Zags held standout guard Alex Barcello to only nine points, and Suggs said he loved the challenge of guarding Barcello in the game.

“I love guarding the other team’s best player,” Suggs said. “I take that really personally.”

The Zags will face the University of Portland Saturday night at 5 p.m. in Portland. The matchup will be broadcasted on Fox 28 and ROOT Sports.

Vinny Saglimbeni is a sports editor. Follow him on Twitter: @vinnysaglimbeni.

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