By Dylan Kitzan/For The Independent
It wasn’t one of the most daunting non-conference schedules during Mark Few’s tenure as head coach of the Gonzaga Bulldogs, but it was the most successful, as the Zags wrapped up that portion of the schedule unscathed when they knocked off visiting South Dakota 102-65 on Wednesday, Dec. 21.
Gonzaga let South Dakota hang around during the first 10 minutes of the game, leading just 20-18 early. From there, however, the defense stepped up in a big way, forcing the Coyotes into tough shots and mistakes and that two-point lead turned into a 52-25 halftime lead just minutes later.
The Bulldogs continued their dominance in the second half, leading by as many as 42 en route to their 12th-consecutive win to open the season. Zach Collins came off the bench to lead all scorers with 21 points, but the Zags’ depth shined again, with 12 different players putting up getting on the scoresheet. Nigel Williams-Goss finished a rebound shy of a double-double with 14 points and nine boards, Johnathan Williams added 12 points and Jordan Mathews 11 as Gonzaga remained undefeated.
Typically, the Zags play a handful of ranked opponents in their non-conference schedule to help balance the strength of schedule of their WCC foes, but this year, just two of Gonzaga’s games were against teams ranked in the Top-25 at the time: Iowa State and Arizona. Come tournament time, however, the Bulldogs should still be a tested group, with at least four games against Saint Mary’s (currently 19th in the nation) and BYU, a veteran, well-coached team that has a tendency to give the Zags fits. In fact, seven of the 10 teams in the WCC enter conference play with a winning record, so maintaining that unblemished record will require Gonzaga to stick to the formula that has worked for them to this point: tough defense and balanced offense.
The Zags’ first conference tests come this week when they host the Pepperdine Waves on Thursday, Dec. 29 before hitting the road to face the Pacific Tigers on Saturday, Dec. 31.