After a stretch of sub-par opponents for Gonzaga's annual Battle in Seattle the Zags finally returned to playing high-level programs. In what has been so far a disappointing season for the Zags, that might not have been too comforting for the fans. Especially in the second half — an unfortunate trend that the Zags have yet to shake.
Turns out it was just what the doctor ordered.
As always the frontcourt stepped up, even without Przemek Karnowski for the sixth straight game, accounting for 63 total points between Kyle Wiltjer (24 points), Ryan Edwards and Domantas Sabonis. The Lithuanian sophomore, Sabonis, erupted for 20 first half points en route to a career high of 36 points and 16 rebounds.
Gonzaga's backcourt, much maligned for inconsistent play and an abundance of turnovers, may have finally come together in this one. The only turnover for the Zags in the first half came on a Ryan Edwards (who is getting minutes as a result of the Karnowski injury) offensive foul. That foul negated a Silas Melson three pointer. Melson came into tonight having gone six for 25 from deep this season. A sign of life from the sophomore.
Eric McClellan (13 points) was his usual aggressive self tonight, but managed to contain the aggression. He drew a flagrant foul Admiral Schofield on a first half fast break and was later fouled hard on another fast break.
Gonzaga blew the game open in the first half but as they have all season long, let the opposition back into the game in the second.
Things started off well enough for Gonzaga, with Kyle Wiltjer swishing a three at the buzzer while falling over on Gonzaga's first possession of the second half. But, that was the shot they had to settle for and it was a sign of things to come.
Tennessee came from down by 19 points to cut the lead to just three possessions with a 12-5 run that opened the second. Gonzaga's offense was stagnant and disjointed coming out of the break, reminiscent of the offense they had been running so far this season.
With Gonzaga sputtering the Vols went on an 11-1 run, capped by a Devon Baulkman three that gave Tennessee their first lead since the first possession of the game, 61-59, half way through the second.
Gonzaga's main adjustment on the heels of the Vols' turnaround was simply keep forcing the ball into the paint with Sabonis. His sequence to respond to the lead change was to score, pick up a defensive rebound, then an offensive rebound and put back then get a defensive stop.
The emotional sophomore Sabonis managed to stay composed after picking up his fourth foul and Tennessee had no answer for him down the stretch.
Another second half meltdown was avoided and the Zags move to 8-3 on the season. It's not a signature win by any means, but it's not a loss. For the Zags, given expectations, that might just be enough for their final game before the West Coast Conference season gets underway on Monday against Pepperdine.