Zagswatch: Gonzaga the probable No. 1 team

By Dylan Kitzan/For The Independent
The Gonzaga Bulldogs continued their torrid start to the season, remaining the country’s only unbeaten team at the Division-I level with three victories over the last week, but it was three other games that have Zag fans waiting with anticipation for next week’s rankings.

The third-ranked Bulldogs kicked off a stretch of three games in five nights with a dominant 88-57 road victory over the Santa Clara Broncos on Thursday, Jan. 19.

Gonzaga blew the contest open early, using a 13-0 run midway through the first half to turn a 19-12 lead into a 20-point cushion in a matter of minutes. Santa Clara never recovered, getting no closer than 11 points the rest of the way as the Zags cruised to 18-0 on the year.

Big man Przemek Karnowski led the Bulldogs with 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting while his backup, freshman Zach Collins, added 16. University of Washington transfer Nigel Williams-Goss contributed a double-double with 11 points and 10 rebounds and Missouri transfer Johnathan Williams narrowly missed one of his own with 10 points and eight rebounds in just 20 minutes of action.

Gonzaga had a trickier time two nights later at home against the Portland Pilots, eventually breaking away over the final 10 minutes in a 73-52 victory.

Up just 49-39 at the midway point of the second half, the Zags used an 18-3 spurt, including scoring from six separate players, to push the lead to 25 en route to the win.

Williams-Goss struggled shooting the ball, but still ended up leading the team with 15 points and Karnowski chipped in 12 while Collins contributed with nine points and a team-leading nine rebounds.

The story of the night was the Bulldogs defense which harassed Portland for 40 minutes. The Pilots shot just 32 percent on the evening, 25 percent from the perimeter while Gonzaga forced 16 turnovers and blocked nine shots, giving Portland little chance despite the Zags’ shooting woes.

The Bulldogs and Pilots met again on Monday, Jan. 23, this time in Portland, in a makeup of their postponed game earlier in the month and again, Gonzaga had little trouble, downing the Pilots 83-64.

The Zags didn’t wait as long to turn this matchup into a rout, using an 18-0 spurt, spanning both sides of halftime, to take a 48-23 lead and eventually become the nation’s first 20-win team.

On Monday, it was the offense that smothered the Pilots with 12 different players getting on the scoreboard, led by 13 from Collins and 12 apiece from Jordan Mathews and Silas Melson.

The Zags didn’t get out of the contest unscathed, unfortunately, as freshman Killian Tillie left with a sprained ankle. Tillie came down on an opponent’s foot and wouldn’t return.

Gonzaga took care of their business and, in an exciting and unpredictable turn of events, watched on Tuesday as No. 1 Villanova, No. 2 Kansas and No. 4 Kentucky all lost road contests, leaving the door wide open for the Bulldogs to likely become the country’s top team for the first time since 2013 and for the second time in school history.

All that stands in their way is a home game against the San Diego Toreros on Thursday, Jan. 26 and a road date with the Pepperdine Waves on Saturday, Jan. 28. The matchup with San Diego will be the first of two meetings between the Zags and Toreros on the season while Gonzaga overcame a slow start against the Waves back on Dec. 29 to win 92-62.