Gonzaga and Admon Gilder have some history and some unfinished business in the Bahamas.
The Zags have only had one attempt at adding the Battle 4 Atlantis championship to their collection of Thanksgiving holiday titles under coach Mark Few from Orlando (three), Maui (two) and New York City (one).
Gonzaga, which faces Southern Miss in the first round Wednesday, opened the 2015 Battle 4 Atlantis by dusting Washington 80-64 after a nine-year hiatus in the rivalry. Kyle Wiltjer, Domantas Sabonis and Przemek Karnowski combined for 53 points and 26 rebounds.
Washington’s Dejounte Murray scored 21 points but fellow freshman Marquese Chriss fouled out after playing just 14 minutes. Eight months later, Chriss was selected No. 8 overall, Sabonis No. 11 and Murray No. 29 in the NBA Draft.
Next up for No. 10 Gonzaga was No. 25 Texas A&M and true freshman guard Gilder. The Zags led most of the way but both offenses went ice-cold in the final nine minutes.
The Aggies pulled out a 62-61 win, despite not making a field goal in the final 8:28. They did hit 10 free throws in that stretch, including Danuel House’s game-winner with 1:05 remaining. Josh Perkins scored 15 second-half points but committed a late turnover and Silas Melson missed a contested 18-footer at the buzzer.
Gilder, who joined the Zags in May as a graduate transfer for his senior season, was scoreless with two rebounds and two assists in eight minutes.
“I remember the scouting report,” Gilder said. “It was kind of like looking at ourselves. We both played the same type of system, but (Gonzaga) played a little bit faster. The bigs did the same things as our bigs, the guards did the same things as our guards. I remember coach (Billy) Kennedy saying, ‘This is a big win for us.’ ”
The Aggies were loaded with House, D.J. Hogg, Jalen Jones, Tyler Davis and Alex Caruso (now with the Los Angeles Lakers). House and Jones joined Wiltjer on the all-tournament team.
“We had a hell of a team,” Gilder said. “I think we got to No. 5 in the country, went to the Sweet 16 and had a great year.”
But the Aggies, like the Zags, didn’t win the Battle 4 Atlantis title. Unranked Syracuse edged Texas A&M 74-67 in the championship. Gilder finished with eight points and two boards in 17 minutes.
Gonzaga, meanwhile, nearly blew a 21-point lead but held off No. 18 Connecticut 73-70 to claim third place. Wiltjer scored 17 points and Kyle Dranginis had a key putback basket and steal in crunch time.
The Zags faced Syracuse in the 2016 Sweet 16, but were outscored 15-3 down the stretch in a 63-60 loss in Chicago.
Gonzaga has been a regular at the top of Thanksgiving week tournaments.
“If we want to be a national program, which we do and which we are, that’s what we do,” Few said. “It’s a small group of teams that are invited to these types of elite-level tournaments, we happen to be one of them. It’s worked out great for us over the years, irregardless of the outcomes of the games.”
The Zags got a head start on the trip, boarding a charter plane Sunday for the Bahamas. The weather forecast for the week calls for highs around 80 degrees and lows in the low 70s with gentle island breezes.
Gonzaga will mix enjoying the sun, sand and water park with preparation for Southern Miss and the challenge of three games in three days. No. 11 Oregon or No. 13 Seton Hall awaits Gonzaga in the second round.
“We did that in Maui (last year), I think that’s why we’re leaving (Sunday) to have a few days on the front end to enjoy, get in the water and soak up the sunshine,” junior wing Corey Kispert said. “And Coach Few is a beach bum himself.”
It seemed to work out just fine last year as the Zags defeated unranked Illinois and Arizona before knocking off No. 1 Duke to win the 2018 Maui Invitational championship.
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