Darron Cummings/Associated Press
The best college basketball team in the country continues to prove itself worthy of the ranking.
No. 1 Gonzaga defeated No. 11 West Virginia 87-82 during the Jimmy V Classic at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis on Wednesday. It’s another win over a top program after Gonzaga knocked off No. 6 Kansas in the season opener last week.
The concern for the Zags now turns to freshman guard Jalen Suggs, who injured his left ankle midway through the first half and returned to action early in the second half. Suggs fell to the court in pain after his left foot appeared to slide across the floor as he cut into the lane. He was helped off and taken back to the locker room shortly after.
Ranked the No. 2 combo guard in the nation by 247Sports last year, Suggs averaged 18 points, four rebounds and seven assists in his first two games.
Drew Timme, F, Gonzaga Bulldogs: 17 points, 3 rebounds
Joel Ayayi, G, Gonzaga Bulldogs: 21 points, 7 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 steals
Corey Kispert, F, Gonzaga Bulldogs: 19 points, 5 rebounds
Oscar Tshiebwe, F, West Virginia Mountaineers: 14 points, 9 rebounds, 1 block
Derek Culver, F, West Virginia Mountaineers: 18 points, 15 rebounds, 2 assists
Bulldogs’ Depth Proves Reliable
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few can rest comfortably knowing his team has the offensive firepower to overcome any struggles his top stars may face this season.
While Drew Timme and Suggs will remain focal points in the Bulldogs’ system this year, the duo were far from consistent Wednesday, though for much different reasons.
After initially appearing as though Suggs was done for the game, the freshman was seen going through agility tests in the tunnel during the second half before he eventually re-took the floor with 15 minutes left in regulation.
Yet it was clear he was playing at a diminished level as he missed all three shot attempts he took in the final frame and was unable to create many opportunities for himself off the dribble. Suggs finished with four points but found a way to disrupt the Mountaineers with six rebounds and five assists.
Jacob Polacheck @JacobPolacheck
It’s great to see that Suggs is able to get back out there, but I’m not completely sold on the decision to put him back in the game.
He doesn’t look 100%.
Risking further injury, especially this early in the season, is a very questionable move. https://t.co/SpizKT6tsE
Timme, meanwhile, found himself in slump through 20 minutes and looked determined to shoot himself out of it. After going 1-9 from the field in the first half, the sophomore found his stroke and made six of eight field goals after the break.
Major contributions from Joel Ayayi, Corey Kispert and Andrew Nembhard made the lack of production from Suggs and Timme more than palatable. The trio combined for 59 of Gonzaga’s 87 points, with Nembhard providing 19 points himself off the bench.
Despite trailing by nine points near the end of the first half, and without its top two players leading the way, Gonzaga found a way to hold it together against one of the best teams in the Big 12. Just as the top team in the nation is expected to do.
Mountaineers Haunted By Foul Trouble
West Virginia’s game plan against the Zags worked perfectly until it no longer had the players available to execute it.
Head coach Bob Huggins knew the best way to slow down the Bulldogs offense was to limit opportunities in the open court and force Few’s vaunted offense into a half-court game. For 20 minutes it worked exceedingly well as Timme couldn’t get comfortable and Gonzaga couldn’t keep up with WVU on the glass.
“We’ve been able to keep them out of transition for the most part,” Huggins said on the ESPN broadcast at halftime. “We make it a point to try to get back and stay in front of them.”
The extra effort to ensure no Bulldogs blew by West Virginia in transition led to excessive fouls in the second half—including some ill-advised attempts to disrupt Gonzaga in transition.
Nothing showcased that more than the fifth foul on Oscar Tshiebwe, who’d been the Mountaineers’ most impactful presence until that point. With 7:26 left in regulation, Tshiebwe tried to regain his position after Timme got past him on the fast break and ended up fouling out while trying to block a surefire layup.
It was a costly mistake that left WVU without one of its best rebounders.
Derek Culver, who grabbed 15 boards, ended the night with four fouls, while forward Gabe Osabuohien (10 points, three rebounds) fouled out with 3:14 left in a one-possession game.
Maybe if this contest took place in January or February—after teams have more time to develop—West Virginia ends up with a victory in a game like this. Instead, the Mountaineers return home knowing they made the No. 1 team in country vulnerable and couldn’t finish it off.
An intense start to the season continues for Gonzaga on Saturday as it faces No. 2 Baylor at 1 p.m. ET on CBS. West Virginia, meanwhile, gets another brand-name program as the Mountaineers travel to Washington, D.C., to face Georgetown at 4:30 p.m. ET on Sunday in the Big East-Big 12 Battle.
This article will be updated to provide more information on this story as it becomes available.
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