With Texas in the rearview mirror, more learning opportunities await Gonzaga’s young team

One of the hallmarks of a great team is its ability to beat other great teams. Gonzaga took the first step to prove why he deserved that tag on Saturday night, blasting past No. 5 Texas 86-74 to claim his 53rd straight victory at the McCarthey Athletic Center and his first against a top-five opponent since the building opened in 2004.

But if the 2021-22 Bulldogs wish to be held to the same standard as their predecessors, this week they will need to demonstrate another trait that past Gonzaga teams have carried. That is, not allowing their game to soften when the calendar does.

It can be easy to look ahead, especially knowing what’s on deck for Gonzaga in more than a week in Las Vegas, but the top-ranked Bulldogs (2-0) will have to resist. to that urge this week as they host Alcorn State (0-3) and Bellarmine (0-2) at Kennel Monday and Friday. Both matches will start at 6 p.m. and will be broadcast on KHQ.

Three times last season, the Bulldogs faced a short turnaround after facing a nationally ranked opponent. Gonzaga followed a season-opening 102-90 win over No. 6 Kansas with a 90-67 rout of Auburn less than 24 hours later. The Bulldogs beat No. 3 Iowa 99-88 in South Dakota before beating Northwestern State 95-57 in Spokane two days later. Then, after handling No. 16 Virginia 98-75 at a neutral site in Texas, Gonzaga came home to hit Northern Arizona 88-58.

Expectations have not changed in 2021-22. At first glance, the Bulldogs appear to be as well-rounded as they are talented, with a healthy mix of proven veterans and hungry freshmen. Gonzaga deployed two different starting lineups and a variety of combinations in his exhibition games, but rotation dwindled in the season opener against Dixie State and, predictably, dwindled again. in Saturday’s game against Texas.

While the Longhorns went to nine players and only used one underclass, Devin Askew, a second-year guard who got 15 minutes off the bench, the Bulldogs were much younger in contrast with two unders. -classes – second Julian Strawther and rookie Chet Holmgren – in the starting lineup. . Freshman guards Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis were two of three GU players who got bench minutes, along with Anton Watson.

Predictions of a Gonzaga return to the Final Four hinge on productive minutes from the team’s freshmen and not just Holmgren, the nation’s top rookie and a projected NBA lottery pick.

Hickman, who played 29 minutes in his second college game, scored seven points on 2-of-3 shooting and connected on a key 3-pointer for the Bulldogs in the second half, drawing postgame praise from coach Mark Few.

“Nolan is a badass, he’s kind of an old soul. I like that about him,” he said. “He’s rock solid and that’s why you can see, second game of his career, we had him down the stretch for the last 10 minutes. It shows you the confidence we have and he’s in kind of built to win. I think he also showed how stable and solid he is.

Sallis’ contributions in five minutes on the ground were most noticeable on the defensive end, where the Nebraska native recorded two interceptions, jumping on a loose ball in the first half before stripping Texas guard Courtney Ramey minutes later.

Sallis and Hickman could see their minutes increase this week as Gonzaga takes on Ken Pomeroy’s No. 333 ranked team at Alcorn State before taking on No. 192 Bellarmine. Alcorn State is on the final leg of a four-game Pacific Northwest road swing that began in Pullman last Tuesday with an 85-67 loss to Washington State. The Braves lost 69-66 to Seattle U. on a buzzer before falling to Portland 62-58.

After Gonzaga, the Braves’ non-conference schedule – consisting only of road games – continues with games in Illinois (Southern Illinois), Wisconsin (Milwaukee), Louisiana (Tulane), Texas (Houston), Kansas (Wichita State), Oklahoma (Tulsa), Texas (Baylor), Oklahoma (Oklahoma) and Minnesota (Minnesota).