After needing a late-game rally to avoid an upset at the hands of underrated Kent State last Monday, No. 15 Gonzaga looked more like itself on Friday night.
In beating Washington 77-60, the Bulldogs not only beat their in-state rival for the seventh straight time, but they resembled the team once ranked as high as No. 2 before absorbing three losses against tough opponents like Texas, Purdue and Baylor.
Now Gonzaga tries to replicate Friday night’s form on Monday evening when it hosts Northern Illinois in Spokane, Wash.
The Zags (7-3) canned nearly 52 percent from the field, controlled the glass 36-29 and kept turnovers down to 12. That was a significant development, considering that the team has experienced issues with coughing up the ball.
“I thought once we settled down against their zone, we were able to kind of get some shots on our terms,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. “And then I thought all night we did a really, really good job of defending.”
At times this season, the Zags have struggled to guard teams off the dribble. But they limited Washington to just over 40 percent shooting from the field, including 7 of 26 from the 3-point line. And they defended cleanly, permitting the visitors to take just nine free throw attempts.
Gonzaga was carried offensively by the familiar 1-2 punch of Drew Timme and Julian Strawther. Timme scored a game-high 22 points on just 13 shot attempts while Strawther added 18. On the season, Timme averages 20 points per game and Strawther nets 14.1.
Rasir Bolton chips in 11.3 per game for the Zags, who despite some offensive struggles are still averaging 79.9 points and canning 49.7 percent from the field. They are also outrebounding opponents by an average of 7.5 per game.
“I think if you look for the rest of the country, they’ve been up here and everybody else has been down here,” said Washington coach Mike Hopkins of Gonzaga. “They’ve created that and that’s why they’re one of the best teams in the country.”
Meanwhile, Northern Illinois (3-6) will be playing its first game since Dec. 2, when it lost 84-47 at Idaho. The Huskies are playing the seventh of an eight-game road trip that, according to the university’s sports information department, will see them log 16,000 miles and play in three time zones.
“This was a scheduling loss where we just didn’t have any energy,” said NIU coach Rashon Burno after the Idaho game. “We were just a dead team. The travel, the time difference, that was a tired bunch.”
Northern Illinois gets most of its scoring from Keshawn Williams and David Coit. Williams is seventh in the Mid-American Conference at 17.4 points, while Coit tallies 14. They’ve gotten some help lately from Zarique Nutter, who’s averaging 11 points over the last four games.
The Huskies will be playing their first game of the year against a Top 25 program. They’ve gone just 3-33 all-time against ranked teams, with their last win coming in 2019 against 14th-ranked Buffalo, 77-75.
This will be the first meeting between Gonzaga and NIU.
–Field Level Media