Freshman guard Hunter Salis makes a jump shot amid defensive assailants.

The Gonzaga Bulldogs (13-2, 2-0) trounced the BYU Cougars (14-4, 2-1) 110-84 in front of a rejuvenated Kennel in their first game back due to COVID-19 concerns within the program. 

Junior forward Drew Timme finished with 30 points and five rebounds on 13-14 shooting to lead all scorers. Sophomore guard Julian Strawther chipped in 20 points after doing most of his damage in the first half as four Zags scored in double figures.

“We’ve been blessed with low post scorers here. A lot of my coaching colleagues kid me that they don’t have guys like that,” said head coach Mark Few. “To have a guy that can deliver on the block time and time again is an incredible asset to have. That’s why I think he’s the best college player there is right now.”

Senior guard Alex Barcello finished with 19 points and five rebounds to lead the Cougars while sophomore forward Caleb Lohner chipped in 17 points and five rebounds of his own.

The Cougars jumped out to a 7-0 lead thanks to five points from Lohner and a sped-up Zags offense that settled for three pointers early in the shot clock. With each subsequent touch for Lohner, boos rained down from The Kennel due to his comment from an interview earlier this week in which he stated that, “everyone hates Gonzaga, so it’ll be a lot of fun to play them.”

“I didn’t think what he said was that bad. I’ve said that before and no one has scrutinized me for it,” Timme said regarding Lohner’s comments. “It’s the same thing when we go to their place. That’s just how the game goes. Every student section picks out a couple guys to go extra hard at. It’s what makes basketball games fun.”

Once the Bulldogs caught their breath, they were right back to their scoring ways. The No. 2 ranked team in offensive efficiency according to KenPom, the Zags got two floaters from Strawther and an and-one from Timme to knot the game at seven.

Barcello did his best to carry the Cougars in tandem with the Zags, but Strawther splashed two triples to extend the Gonzaga lead to 18-16.

Drew Timme struggled to get free in the post as BYU clogged the lane with up to three defenders. With the Cougars keyed in on Timme, the rest of the Zags went to work.

Senior guard Andrew Nembhard stepped outside of his typical distributor role and nailed three long-range bombs and a step back within minutes to give Gonzaga a nine-point lead.

Crucial in increasing their lead was the Zags’ passing. The Bulldogs finished the half with 14 assists compared to only seven for BYU as the Cougar’s methodical half-court offense couldn’t keep pace with the Bulldogs.

Freshman center Chet Holmgren – who finished the game with 12 points, seven rebounds and five blocks – single-handedly put BYU in neutral with not one Cougar able to shoot over the towering Minnesotan in the paint.

The Zags were unafraid of junior and senior forwards Gideon George and Seneca Knight as defenders sagged off the BYU forwards, daring them to shoot. Midway through the first half, the two were a combined 0-6 from the three-point stripe.

To finish the half, Strawther, Timme, and Nembhard carried the Zags to a 61-49 lead and made nine of their last 11 shots as they eclipsed 60 points for the second straight game.

“Making shots cures a lot of ills. We made shots early but it took us a while to find Drew,” Few said. “Probably the best thing we did is I don’t think we forced anything. We played with great pace.”

The Cougars played a formidable half of basketball, shooting 50% from the field and 56% from three-point range and making five of their last six to cut the deficit to 12 after trailing by as many as 19.

The second half would not look the same.

Despite five straight points by BYU to cut the GU lead to seven, the Cougars would never come any closer.

Nembhard fed a cutting Holmgren along the baseline for a reverse dunk over freshman forward Fousseyni Traore to wake The Kennel back up.

Timme scored six points in quick succession with an array of post moves to increase the Zag’s lead back to 13 with 16:02 remaining.

“Coach Few has been on my ass the last couple weeks or so to be more assertive with the ball,” Nembhard said.

The senior guard did just that, pouring in 22 points and 12 assists without a single turnover as he handled the high-octane GU offense with the precision of an F1 driver.

The Florida transfer showcased his three-level scoring ability with threes, mid-range step backs and an exclamation point one-handed jam to salt the game away with the Bulldogs up 93-67.

The rest of the game was a mere formality as the Bulldogs ran up the score for their second straight 110-point game.

“We think we’re the best offense in the country. What we do is score,” Nembhard said. “Teams recently just can’t guard us.”

Following an emotional win, the Bulldogs will face a quick turnaround, flying to Santa Clara to take on the Broncos (11-5, 1-0) on Saturday at 1 p.m. PST.

Tommy Conmy is a copy editor.