This was supposed to be Gonzaga’s first big test. And it was, but only for as long as it probably took viewers to find the SEC Network on their television or streaming device – if that took the first 9 minutes of the opening half.
With Tom Hart and Jon Sundvold singing Texas A&M’s deserved praises, it seemed as if GU would be in for a tough time. Uh, no.
The eighth-ranked Zags (4-0) dealt with some first-road-game jitters, started on a 20-0 run with 11 minutes left in the first half and then went on to an easy 79-49 victory in College Station, Texas.
What they saw …
• Sundvold has a history with the Zags, as he called their first NCAA Tournament run in 1999, a subject he and Hart, the play-by-play voice, covered in the second half. They needed to, because at that point Gonzaga was ahead by 28 points.
Sundvold, a first-round draft pick for the Seattle SuperSonics, even delved into the mispronunciation of Gonzaga back then. While they were talking about the Bulldogs’ history, Filip Petrusev went one-on-one on a fastbreak and dunked.
It was that type of night.
• It was also Admon Gilder’s return to College Station after four years on the Aggies’ roster. He seemed to enjoy it, especially early. The broadcast team used his return as a way to transition from the SEC team to a program that is consistently ranked in the top 10 – and is again this season.
“He’s very comfortable in this building,” Sundvold said as Gilder hit his first 3-pointer.
Comfortable enough to score a game-high 16 points, although he hit just 4 of 11 shots. He did have seven rebounds as Gonzaga, led by Petrusev’s 10 boards, had a 46-29 domination in that category.
What we saw …
• For some reason, Buzz Williams, in his first year at Texas A&M after a successful run at Virginia Tech, decided the Zags were not going to beat his group from the 3-point line.
Sundvold told us Texas A&M was going to run at a lot of shooters and the Aggies did. It took Gonzaga a bit to adjust.
But when the Zags did, the offense began to roll. For example, in the midst of a 29-5 end-of-the-first-half run that lifted Gonzaga to a 40-19 lead, Ryan Woolridge gathered a pass in the left corner, lifted just slightly, waited for Emanuel Miller to fly by, then drained a 21-footer.
A couple of minutes later, Woolridge had to leave for a while, after being crushed on a layup by Quenton Jackson, who wasn’t called for a foul. That’s because Woolridge had already been fouled by Mark French. It was one of two times Woolridge hit the floor, but he looked no worse for it.
• The run included efficient offense, sure, but the key to the stretch was the Gonzaga defense. The five points Texas A&M (2-1) scored in the final 11 minutes, 10 seconds of the half was testament to that. In that stretch, the Aggies hit two shots, turned it over six times and just kept missing.
For the half, Texas A&M had no assists, 10 turnovers and shot 24 percent.
• Joel Ayayi helped key the run on both ends. He was a catalyst of the Zags’ defensive pressure, hit 3 of 4 shots, six rebounds (split evenly on both ends) and added three assists in 14 first-half minutes. He finished with eight points, seven rebounds and a game-high six assists.
That helped offset an awful first half for Corey Kispert, as the longest-tenured Bulldog missed his first eight shots – seven before halftime – and finished with just three points on 1-of-10 shooting. He also had three turnovers.
The key matchup …
• Texas A&M’s offensive struggles can’t be traced to one man, but leading returning scorer Jay Jay Chandler certainly contributed. With the three Gonzaga guards, Gilder, Woolridge and Ayayi, taking turns guarding him, Chandler struggled. He finished with five points on 1-of-5 shooting. He also had four turnovers, part of Texas A&M’s total of 18. He played just 20 minutes.
Woolridge might have been the best guard on the floor, not only playing solid defense – as did all the Zags in the first half, especially the deciding stretch – but adding 16 points (on 7-of-10 shooting), two assists and seven rebounds to his two steals.
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