The senior Gonzaga showed no signs of rust on Saturday as he sent Iowa 99-88 No. 3 behind another star performance from freshman guard Jalen Suggs.
The Bulldogs hadn’t played a game against West Virginia since December 2 due to COVID-19 being canceled and logged. They only returned to practice earlier this week.
“I have incredibly brave and competitive guys who just love to play and love to play together,” said Gonzaga’s coach Mark Few. “That was all the key. It wasn’t easy. We got gassed, especially in the second half. We were under all kinds of nasty pressures and adversities on that foundation. It just shows the kind of competitors they are, the kind of character They have.
“If you saw the training on the first day after that COVID layoff, the staff had to wear catcher masks or something, the balls were flying around all over the place just to be sure … I’m proud of the way they competed because I was not sure how we would handle it. “
A 13-0 run in the middle of the first half turned a one-point lead into a 12-point lead, and Iowa was never really within reach the rest of the way. Suggs was great again, ending up 27 points, seven rebounds and four assists while making seven 3-points.
Suggs was the catalyst for the Bulldogs on both ends of the floor. He collected three steals and added a highlight role block in the transition in the first half. He appeared to be in good health after being forced to temporarily leave the West Virginia game due to a leg injury.
“When I started this weekend I really felt that my jump shot had improved and I was very comfortable with it,” said Suggs. “This game in particular was a really good learning experience for me. I had a few conversations with Coach, just about a few things, just to slow down, keep it simple and let the game come to me.”
Suggs was one of the best newcomers in the country this season and will be causing quite a stir in the 2021 NBA draft – and maybe even talking to the number 1 – as a lottery tip. But he made it clear after the game that he wasn’t thinking about the next level at the moment.
“It’s great to hear, but I’m not focusing on it. I’m focusing on the here and now,” Suggs said. “In my opinion [my teammates] Together with the coaches they did a great job keeping me on the ground and helping me keep the outside noise out and keep working every day. That’s what I keep doing and whatever happens in the future. But right now I’m locked up here with my boys. “
Gonzaga came into play with just 29.1% from 3-point range, but the Bulldogs buried 10 3-point points in the first half and finished the game 13-26 behind the arch. This is her most productive 3-point shooting performance since beating Southern Miss 13:19 last November.
In addition to Suggs, Gonzaga had four other players in the double digits – including junior guard Joel Ayayi, who finished four assists behind a triple-double with 11 points, 18 rebounds and six assists. The Bulldogs played consistently in transition, grabbing ricochets and pounding the ball against an unresolved defense in Iowa. The fast break points in combination with the 3-point barrage in the first half could not stop the Hawkeyes, who have fought defensively in recent seasons.
“They have a lot of guns so you have to try and stop everything. It starts with the transition and then the ball screen defense and the ricochet,” said Iowa’s coach Fran McCaffery. “In the first half we didn’t do a good job in transition, we credited them. We had a stretch where nothing fell … to their credit they pushed and hit them. We had to go back and make a stop.” .
“You play a team that is really talented and has a great coach. You play a team that has an expectation of winning. So you are not usually mistake teams … This team challenges you in a lot of opportunities. You play fast, them.” push the ball. They play really well with their half-pitch attack, they ricochet and they have depth. And they have some veterans who come off the bench. “
The great Iowa man Luka Garza, the favorite of the Wooden Awards, finished the Hawkeyes with 30 points and 10 rebounds and shot 13:18 off the field. But unlike North Carolina, when Garza’s supporting cast rose from the perimeter, Iowa couldn’t get it going from the outside. The Hawkeyes shot only 4:22 from 3 point range.
“Overall they did a good job defensively with us,” said junior striker Joe Wieskamp. “You mixed it up and doubled it up [Garza], on the dribble, on the hook. They flew on riflemen. There have been a couple of times that I thought I could have faked a shot, tried to get a chin-up, or a shot-wrong side step, things like that. “
Gonzaga will host Northwestern State on Monday before heading to Texas against Virginia on December 26, while Iowa will go straight to the Big Ten on Tuesday with a home game against Purdue.