If there was ever a time for a collective curse amongst the Gonzaga Bulldogs fanbase, it was in the first half of last night’s game when Jalen Suggs went down, clutching at his ankle, visibly frustrated, tears rolling down his face, and the rest of his teammates shaken. There are no apologies for the listless play that followed afterward. These are just college kids after all.
But what seemed like a game that was slipping out of grasp, and with it, a championship season, was quickly corrected thanks to the play of Andrew Nembhard.
Going into the season, it was largely thought that Nembhard’s services would not be needed, thanks to the combination of Suggs and Aaron Cook. As demonstrated last night, having Nembhard in the mix is the blessing we didn’t know Gonzaga needed.
Nembhard finished the game with 19 points, five rebounds, and six assists off of 7-of-14 shooting. He tore up the West Virginia Mountaineers in the midrange game, hitting 7-for-11 from inside the arc. Most importantly, he demonstrated leadership and experience to help lead a team that needed it.
His play over the final two minutes was the icing on the cake. With West Virginia down by three with a shade over two minutes remaining, Nembhard was involved with every Gonzaga point except for the final Corey Kispert free throws. That is exactly the style of play championship teams need from their point guards, and that is why Gonzaga is slotted in the title conversations.
Andrew Nembhard is easily the MVP of this game for me.— Brenna Greene (@BrennaGreene_) December 3, 2020
In the final two minutes he lead a 6-0 Gonzaga run that put the game away. Had a transition lay up to start the run and then two clutch assists. pic.twitter.com/mz6nOnQyOp
Obviously, at the moment, we do not know the extent of Suggs’ injury, if he is injured at all, if he will have to rest his ankle, etc. If Suggs’ injury is severe and he misses extended playing times, that is a mark on Gonzaga’s championship hopes. Teams just don’t replace one of your top players interchangeably. However, having a player of Nembhard’s caliber to fill in makes it easier to look forward and not worry as much.
I was particularly impressed by the following specific play, mainly because West Virginia’s defense had been giving the Gonzaga offense fits pretty much all night. If the Zags weren’t able to push the ball up the court, the Mountaineers made the Zags fight tooth and nail for every point. Nembhard plays like someone who has started for two years. He knows that the pace of the game doesn’t need to run at a breakneck speed at all times. He is a crafty scoring guard.
Of course, he is hardly a perfect player. Nembhard’s outside shot still remains the weakest part of his game from his Florida days. However, his ability to take over last night’s game like a team needs from their point guard was instrumental in the win.
Last night was a tough win over West Virginia. It was a reminder that for all the amazing pieces the Zags have, it is still very early in the season and, like all other teams, they have things to work on. Luckily, having players like Nembhard on the roster means the Zags can weather the bumps a bit easier.