One 16 minute scrimmage isn’t quite what most seasoned Gonzaga men’s basketball fans have come to expect out of the annual season debut event known as Kraziness in the Kennel, but that’s what they got. No rambunctious Kennel, no spectacular player introductions, no fanfare and not even a dunk contest.
The event would surely have been a wash if it wasn’t for the biggest improvement made to its program, that being the game itself. Because with all the other amenities having faded away, this year’s Kraziness in the Kennel allowed the Zags to showcase what they’re truly going to be about this season, while throwing in some dazzling flair to keep the evening enthralling for all who got the chance to witness.
“We’re getting there, we obviously have a lot of stuff to work on,” Drew Timme said. “We get after it everyday pushing each other and the staff just making sure that we’re getting to the right place.”
After Corey Kispert opened the night up with a splash three, Joel Ayayi tossed up a deep alley-oop pass that Jalen Suggs finished at the rim to put the white team up 5-0 early, and they would go on to carry that lead throughout most of the game. Early on, the projected leaders of each team were the ones in control, as Kispert led the white team in scoring with 14 points on the night and Timme matched that performance with 14 points of his own for the navy team, 10 of those coming within the contest’s first eight minutes.
But it wasn’t just the usual suspects for the Zags who showed out during Kraziness. GU showed exactly how they plan to use redshirt freshman Oumar Ballo this season, keeping him in the paint for a majority of the white team’s offensive possessions and having distributors like Kispert and Ayayi feed him the rock whenever a size mismatch occurred, which it often did with the seven-foot center. Still, Ballo is young and despite the great promise he demonstrated in his six point scoring effort, he also showed that his close range shooting could use some development along with his work on the glass after he secured only one rebound on the night.
“We need him to be a better rebounder than he’s been showing and hopefully that’ll start coming to fruition,” head coach Mark Few said. “I think we got him in a lot better shape than he’s ever been in and that’s a start because we’re just scratching the surface. He’s really young to the game and he’s made some really big strides here, especially in the last two to three weeks.”
Transfer guard from the University of Florida Andrew Nembhard, who the Kennel won’t get to see suit up again for the Zags until next season, demonstrated his acute ball control and handling while running point for the navy squad, pronounced most in a double move he made to create space for himself just beyond the free throw line before nailing a mid range jump shot to bring the score within four with six minutes left.
This propelled the navy team on a small run that saw them take a short lived two point lead with 4:55 left to play.
Unfortunately for the navy team, their lead change appeared to ignite the ire of freshman guard Jalen Suggs for the white team, who had been relatively quiet in the scoring column since his dunk to open the game. That changed in the tenth minute, as grad transfer Aaron Cook was leading a fast break effort before finding Suggs coming into the scoring lane with aggressive pace, and after a swift pass, Suggs drove all of his momentum towards the hoop for a powerful poster dunk over fellow freshman Dominick Harris.
“[Jalen] has been shooting the ball really well but he missed some shots early,” Few said. “By and large he was banged a little bit at the start of camp, so he’s been practicing a lot more and it’s really starting to show because he’s a quick learner and aggressive by nature. I would say that he’s one of those guys who’s really made a big jump here in the last week and hopefully we’ll continue to get great improvement out of him moving forward.”
Suggs ended the night with 13 points on five for 11 shooting, and also showed some valuable defensive propensities when he put the game away with a minute left by forcing Timme to turn the ball over when the navy team were making a last ditch effort to bring the game within two points.
Joel Ayayi had a reserved scoring night, dropping two points on a single shot that came from a quick coast to coast score when recognizing the tardiness of the navy team’s defense in getting set up. But he was imperative in the white team’s ultimate victory, as he exemplified his outstanding rebounding abilities by grabbing a game high ten boards, distributing four assists and coming up with two steals, proving to Zag fans early on that he’s only honed his skills more since last season
In summation, it was the white team who pulled away with a 45-36 victory over the navy team. Even as both teams played relatively well considering it was their first public performance of the season, going 34 of 70 shooting all together and committing 12 turnovers compared to the 20 had in last year’s Kraziness in the Kennel, players and coaches understand that they have to keep progressing unrelentingly before their season opener against No. 6 Kansas in two weeks.
“We just keep sharpening our tools because coach [Few] has mentioned physicality to us over and over again,” Kispert said. “[Kansas] pride themselves on being the biggest, baddest dudes out there so we have to make sure that we match their physicality and games early in the year aren’t won so much with execution, but by the team that hits the hardest and the toughest.”
The evening's affair serenely ended with the two teams coming together as the unified collective they’ll be together for the rest of the season to break down a “Zags” huddle together on the center court GU logo in front of a silent McCarthey Athletic Center arena.