No. 5 Gonzaga itches for win as Merrimack arrives

NCAA Men's Basketball

When asked about his team’s game Thursday night at No. 5 Gonzaga, Merrimack coach Joe Gallo was quick with a quip.

“They’ve got the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, but he’s the second-best player on the team,” Gallo told the Boston Globe, referring to Gonzaga freshman 7-footer Chet Holmgren, the potential top overall selection, and unanimous preseason All-American Drew Timme. “Let me know if you have any good ideas about how to defend the Timme-Holmgren high-low.”

How did the Warriors, who dropped to 4-6 overall with a 76-56 home loss to Brown on Tuesday night in North Andover, Mass., end up with a trip to Spokane, Wash., to face the team that was ranked No. 1 in the preseason?

In need of a game, Gallo went online.

“There are two different sites we use for scheduling,” Gallo said. “We had one game available and it was getting really late; I think it was Aug. 10 when we agreed on the game. The only teams that have games left by then were the ones that are really good and no one wants to play. I might be the only one dumb enough to say yes.”

Gallo said the Warriors — who went 20-11 in 2019-20, capturing the Northeast Conference’s regular-season title in their inaugural season in NCAA Division I — will get $85,000 for the trip to the Pacific Northwest.

“At smaller schools, you have to play some of these games to generate revenue,” Gallo said. “But with the success we’ve had, it’s been difficult to schedule them. Some teams want to avoid a disaster of a loss.

“I’d like to schedule more games against big schools, but these games have become harder to come by for programs who aren’t as sure of themselves as Gonzaga is.”

The Bulldogs (7-2), whose only loss last season came in the NCAA Tournament’s championship game against Baylor, have already faced four ranked foes. They blew out then-No. 5 Texas and then-No. 2 UCLA before a close loss to then-No. 5 Duke in Las Vegas. They dropped a 91-82 decision to No. 16 Alabama on Saturday in Seattle.

“We’re playing the best of the best,” said Timme, who had a team-high 23 points against Alabama. “I feel like they’re great learning experiences. Better now than March, right?

“We’re young and we’re still figuring things out. We’ve had some good things, even in these losses in close games. It’s a long season; we have a long way to go. We have plenty of time to get our stuff right.”

Added Gonzaga coach Mark Few: “It’s not always about us. They stepped up and made shots. We’re playing a lot of great teams, so if you’re not hitting on all cylinders and doing everything just right, they make you pay.”

Gallo said he wasn’t planning on any adjustments to the Warriors’ zone defense or ball-control offense against the Zags.

“With the defense that we play, it really helps us,” he said. “We only worry about us. We’re still making the same slides, the same rotations — whether it’s the five-man for Emerson College, who we played this year, or if it’s Drew Timme.

“There are a few small things we’d be willing to give up against Gonzaga but not much. Offensively, we might be a little smarter about what we do. I don’t want us going into the lane and getting our shot blocked 25 times.”

–Field Level Media

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