Photo Gallery: Gonzaga defeats Portland 74-58

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Gonzaga students embraced the clear, cold Friday night as they huddled together to stay warm in their tents. Normally a place where students throw a Frisbee or throw a game of spikeball, Herak Lawn has been transformed into “Tent City”, a Kennel Club tradition set up for home marquee basketball games. After securing a spot in line the night before, students bundle up in parkas and gloves, pack their sleeping bags and blankets, and hunker down for the night before game day.

Some might consider it unnecessary while others applaud those who endure the elements to show off their school spirit. As tradition dictates, students are treated to pizza courtesy of the men’s basketball team as players go from tent to tent serving slices of cheese and pepperoni to their loyal fans.

After serving up dinner the night before, a 74-58 win over No. 22 Saint Mary’s was the dessert fans had been craving for a hectic 48 hours.

Drew Timme led the way with 25 points, eight rebounds and five assists for the No. 2 Bulldogs (21-2, 10-0 WCC), who collected their 14and straight win of the season.

“It was a really good basketball team that we beat tonight,” said Mark Few. “Excited [Bennett] did a great job with this team. They are tough, tough and hard to score. »

Here’s how the Zags got the job done against the Gaels:

SURVIVE THE ROCK FIGHT

If there’s one team in the WCC that isn’t afraid to get dirty, it’s Randy Bennett’s Gaels. Gonzaga made his living crushing opponents in the opening minutes of the season, but that wasn’t going to work Saturday night despite the amplified home crowd, as Saint Mary’s ruined the game early. A combined 0-for-7 start from the floor left the 6,000 fans in attendance itching for some sort of infraction.

Mattias Taas and Timme finally broke the rim seal for their respective teams, ending the drought by nearly three minutes to start. Nembhard gave the Zags their first lead with a reverse layup after Holmgren blocked possession from Alex Ducas earlier, but the Gaels defense was successful in their attempt to slow the pace. The two teams combined to shoot 3 for 13 in four minutes of action.

Despite several saves, the Bulldogs struggled to capitalize against the Gaels’ superb transition defense. Instead of fighting for second-chance opportunities, Randy Bennett’s five starters opted to fall back to keep the Zags ahead of them on defense.

Holmgren flew into the lane to finish a pass from Nembhard off the pick-and-roll, momentarily bringing The Kennel to life. However, Saint Mary’s never wavered amid the rowdy crowd as they responded with six straight points to take a 12-11 lead. Gonzaga responded with a 9-2 run, capped by a rare 3-point Timme from the top of the arc.

Lively and locked in on both sides, the All-American sparked the Zags’ previously stagnant offense. Totaling 15 points in the first half, Timme relentlessly attacked Tas into the post with an array of shrewd footwork mixed with raw strength and determination. Whether it was following his own failure on three defenders or faking a transfer before heading to the hoop, the junior once again managed to force his way against the Gaels.

“It’s easy to score when you have guys like [Nembhard] and great shooters around you,” Timme said.

Holding a 13-point lead coming out of the locker room, the Zags offense picked up where it left off. Timme finished on Kyle Bowen to start the second half, then knocked down a hook on Tass two possessions later. As Saint Mary’s adjusted to try and slow him down, he began splitting double teams as he found the open man, including an alley-oop to Holmgren from the low block.

“Drew just became Drew again,” Few said. “We definitely needed each of his [baskets] this evening.”

WITHSTANDING A LAST PUSH

A Gonzaga advantage of 21 points was not enough to deter the Gaels, whose mental toughness has shown itself time and time again this season.

While most teams would falter after an 11-3 run by the Zags, the fight against the Gaels never gave up. Alex Ducas reduced the deficit to 16 after a 3-pointer on the left wing in transition. Following an offensive foul on Anton Watson, Ducas capitalized with a lay-up on the next possession.

The two teams began trading blows midway through the second half. A 3-pointer from Khuse was answered by Nolan Hickman from the left wing, before Ducas drilled his second long ball of the half to keep the Gaels within striking distance. Against an attack that is usually on cruise control for the final 10 minutes, Saint Mary’s refused to let Gonzaga take control of the game.

With three minutes to go, the once over-excited student section turned anxious after a Tass dunk to cut the deficit into single digits.

But the final push was all for no. Julian Strawther knocked down a 3-pointer to make it a 69-58 ball game. The next possession, Nembhard fought his way to the rim for one-and-one on Logan Johnson. With the weather favoring the Zags, Strawther delivered the final blow with another 3-pointer, this time from the right wing.

“I have all the faith in the world in us to take care of business all the way,” Timme said of his team’s assurance. “I think it was a good test for us in March.”

SURVEY IMPLICATIONS AND FUTURE PERSPECTIVES

A shake-up in the polls was inevitable after another insane week of college hoops, it was just a matter of where each team stacked up as they finished their weekend slate. With Auburn’s loss to Arkansas, the door was open for the Zags to reclaim their spot at the top pending a sweep over two conference rivals, as well as cement their grip on the WCC.

More importantly, it’s a resume booster for March. Now, with six Quad 1 wins this season, Gonzaga’s case for the top seed is that much closer to becoming a lock less than a hiccup in the WCC tournament.

After a two-game stint at home, the Bulldogs are back on the road Wednesday when they travel to Malibu to take on the Pepperdine Waves (7-20, 1-11 WCC). Pepperdine fell to BYU, 91-85, Saturday night despite Houston Mallette’s 31 points.

Jack C. Nugent