The No. 1 ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs defeated the No. 3 ranked Iowa Hawkeyes 99-88 at the Sanford Pentagon in Sioux Falls, SD.
Nearly five years have passed since the Zags have taken to the court against Iowa, defeating them in 2015 to face UCLA in the Sweet 16. Ranked at No. 2 that year, GU had a powerful line-up that topped excellent competition, making a hard-fought run to the Elite Eight. Led by power forwards Kyle Wiltjer and Domantas Sabonis, the Zags went on to face Duke in the regional final, losing 66-52.
Going into Saturday mornings tip-off, the Zags are reckoning with two weeks lost to COVID-19 positive test results. With games scheduled against No. 2 Baylor, Tarleton State and others, the Zags have missed out on five total matchups due to pandemic concerns.
The last time GU hit the court nearly three weeks ago on December 2nd, they played a highly contested game against Bob Huggins’ West Virginia Mountaineers. With Jalen Suggs battling a lower leg injury in the game, new faces stepped up, with Junior transfer Andrew Nembhard scoring 19 points to help the Zags beat WVU 87-82.
The Iowa Hawkeyes had the same win-loss momentum coming in as WVU, with a 6-0 record and a No. 3 overall ranking. Led by powerhouse player Luka Garza, the Hawkeyes were averaging 39.8% on 3 pointers, with the best offensive-efficiency rating in the league.
Winning the tip, the Iowa Hawkeyes grabbed onto the game in the first five minutes, keeping pace with Zags and managing to keep the score even. Suggs and Corey Kispert went toe-to-toe with the Hawkeyes’ CJ Fredrick and Joe Weiskamp trading three pointers, combining for 25 points between the four of them in the first ten minutes of the half.
The first media timeout of the game at 13:46 saw a competitive score of 15-14, both teams landing strikes to each other in stride. However, after a short timeout at 10:36, the Zags picked up steam that drew them ahead of the Hawkeyes.
Beginning on a run at 9:55 in the first half, GU scored 13 unanswered points in a row, starting to accumulate a large lead ahead on the Hawkeyes. Suggs was instrumental in accelerating the Zags’ pulling ahead of Iowa, scoring 7 of the 13 points in the run. With GU’s elongated break from basketball due to COVID-19 concerns, Suggs prioritized keeping his game sharp during uncertain weeks of game cancellations, and focused on recovering from his injury against the Mountaineers.
“I spent some time in the gym by myself, late at night, just putting shots up,” Suggs said. “And coming into this weekend, I really felt like my jump shot improved, and I felt really comfortable with it.”
At the end of the first half, the Zags had built a substantial lead of 13 points over the Hawkeyes, pulling the score 51-37. Going into the second, the Zags had shot an average 57.6% on field goals and 62.5% on three-pointers. Upholding the lead with previously successful strategies and continuing to put defensive pressure on the Hawkeyes going into the second half was key according to Zag Head Coach Mark Few.
“We tried to continue with the things we were finding success with.” Few said. “We defended, not only on Garza, but also their shooters, which we were very worried about because they have so many great shooters out there on the perimeter.”
At the outset of the second half, the Zags had power to spare. Drew Timme connected with teammate Cory Kispert on several occasions, driving the Zags further into the second half ahead. Timme and Kispert played an excellent game against the Hawkeyes, with 15 points and 13 points respectively, and a total of 11 rebounds between the two.
Elongating the lead, the Zags stayed far in front of the Hawkeyes, not once dropping their position above their opponent. The largest lead by points came at 13:46 in the second half, when Zag Aaron Cook made a jumpshot assisted by Andrew Nembhard, ratcheting the score up to 71-51, and granting GU a 20 point lead. Despite being in for less than half the game, Cook made a quality impression on the court, putting up 9 points and hitting 60% of his field goal shots.
Playing out the second half, the Zags stayed the course with their lead on the Hawkeyes. As time drew to a close, a foul on Cook and subsequent possession by Iowa ran out the game clock. The Zags closed out the game with an 11 point difference, trouncing the Hawkeyes 99-88.
Suggs led the Zags with an impressive season high of 27 points, followed by 15 points from Timme, and 13 put up by both Kispert and Nembhard. Despite the adversity of lost time during the last couple weeks, and a typical venue for the game, Coach Few understood that his players were ready and able to bring their best efforts to the floor on Saturday.
“They’re ballers,” Few said. “They want to play games like this, they were looking forward to [this game]... and anytime you’re getting in a No. 1 vs. No. 3 game, that’s a heck of a memory for a lifetime.”
The No. 1 Ranked Bulldogs will play against Northwestern State on Monday, December 21st, at 6 P.M. in Spokane at the McCarthey Athletic Center.