NO. 1 GONZAGA 99, NO. 3 IOWA 88: BRINGING A BUZZSAW TO A GUNFIGHT

By Adam Jacobi on December 19, 2020 at 2:38 pm
Luka Garza dunk at Sanford Pentagon
Twitter/University of Iowa Athletics
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Well, damn.

A lights-out first half from future All-American and lottery pick guard Jalen Suggs (my god, a freshman) helped Gonzaga build an insurmountable lead, going up as much as 20 before finally beating the third-ranked Iowa Hawkeyes, 99-88. Iowa got back within nine points a few times and within eight with 40 seconds left, but the Hawkeyes never seemed to get that one big shot or one big rebound to kickstart a game-saving run. When Gonzaga's collecting 40% of its misses on offensive rebounds, that'll happen.

The good news is that there isn't a backcourt like that in the Big Ten.

Luka Garza was his dominant self on offense, finishing with 30 points on 13-for-18 shooting and adding 10 rebounds. Credit due to Gonzaga — Garza wasn't able to get a three-pointer off until the last possession of the game, and the bevy of bigs was able to double Garza prior to any entry passes, denying a key component of Iowa's offense. Garza and Jack Nunge also helped collect 14 personal fouls on Gonzaga's frontcourt starting trio, though the Bulldogs were rarely hampered on offense as a result.

In addition, Gonzaga's remarkable energy and length on the outside gave Iowa fits in finding open shots from the perimeter. Jordan Bohannon had the sort of line that you worry about seeing — 1-for-8 FG, 0-for-5 3P, four TO — and Suggs didn't have to try hard to beat him on dribble penetration. Again, Suggs is one of the best players in men's basketball this year, he's going to embarrass a lot of opponents, but the value proposition of Bohannon is a lot different if he's not making those shots from deep.

The game seemed too fast at times for CJ Fredrick too, who quickly found himself in Fran's dreaded Two-Foul Dungeon in the first half and finished with eight points and four fouls in just 23 minutes of action. Fredrick won't often be a liability on defense this season, but Gonzaga's backcourt featured Suggs going 7-for-10 from deep and Joel Ayayi collecting 18 rebounds — overmatched is overmatched.

The good news is that there isn't a backcourt like that in the Big Ten. Plenty of athletes, plenty of guys who can cause problems, assuredly some losses still yet to come, but Iowa found itself up against the best the sport has to offer on Saturday, plain and simple. And Iowa did, for the record, force Suggs into seven turnovers. If he wasn't going supernova from deep, he would have had a bad game. Sometimes the tough shots just go in.

And despite never being able to get the outside shooting on track or otherwise put together a big run, Iowa put up 88 points against a really good defense, in its most high-profile non-conference game in decades. The Hawkeyes played well enough to beat all but a short list of teams on Saturday. It's just that that short list is probably always going to have Gonzaga on it. The Zags have a serious "undefeated regular season" vibe to them.

It was this kind of day.

So I'm not letting a loss like this ruin my weekend, and you shouldn't either. The Zags showed Iowa what a top-ranked team looks like and plays like, and did it without even a hint of acrimony or dirt. It's a shame the guys didn't get to shake hands at the end of the game, but the shot of Iowa's players offering applause from afar after the final seconds ticked down tells you everything. With any luck, Iowa capitalizes on the teaching opportunities presented in a game like this and comes out better for it.

Chins up. Go Iowa Awesome.

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