There never seems to be a dull moment with this Gonzaga team, even in the run up to a game where they were favored by 35 points after shellacking the reigning national champs. Gonzaga won, but the big story that will occupy fan’s thoughts is the health of Jalen Suggs, who missed the contest with a right knee injury suffered in the second half of the Virginia game which he was able to finish.
Early scuttlebutt is that Suggs was held out of the game for precautionary reasons, and that his injury isn’t serious. Of course, in a season that could realistically end with a Final Four trip, any injury to a core piece will result in alarms going off amongst the program’s fan base.
But while we monitor his Suggs’ injury develops, a game was still played.
For the second game in a row, Gonzaga blitzed an opponent and essentially ended the game right when it began. Ayayi opened the proceedings with a casual three-pointer followed by a Watson steal that led to an Ayayi transition lay up that forced Shane Burcar to call a timeout just 38 seconds into the game.
If the purpose of the timeout was to settle down the Lumberjacks and reset their focus, it didn’t work. The Zags continued to dissect the Northern Arizona defense en route to a 22-5 lead by the first media timeout. By that point, the game shifted to Ayayi watch as he maintained his red hot start to make up for the absence of his backcourt mate.
Ayayi almost had his double-double before the first half ended, and it didn’t take long for him to secure it in the second half as he continued his rebounding prowess before exiting early with 17 points and 10 rebounds after the outcome was decided.
Beyond enjoying the Ayayi show, the coaching staff finally had the opportunity to get extended minutes for the deeper parts of the bench as Gonzaga’s lead ballooned to nearly 40 points early in the second half.
The majority of the second half was a developmental exercise for the future of Gonzaga’s roster. Oumar Ballo, Dominick Harris (12 points), and Julian Strawther all had the opportunity to play long stretches and gain game reps against a NAU squad that very much did not want to get blown out by 50 points. There were some highlights, along with some moments where youthful errors were on display. Such are the growing pains of improvement.
Those minutes will matter quite a bit down the road, and as such, beyond getting the W the coaching staff will surely walk away from this game feeling like it was a big success as there are now countless teaching moments on film to work through in practice during the weeks to come.