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Gonzaga vs. Tennessee game recap: Bulldogs withstand foul trouble to pass test from Volunteers

Foul trouble and lackluster offensive rebounding caused the Zags to bend, but not break.

NCAA Basketball: Gonzaga vs Tennessee
Gonzaga junior point guard Nigel Williams-Goss.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Foul trouble and a hot-handed Detrick Mostella (17 points) pushed the eighth-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs to the limit on Saturday. Gonzaga’s vulnerabilities were put on full display Sunday in Nashville, but ultimately this undefeated team passed Tennessee’s test, 86-76.

Gonzaga is an elite team, so the qualities that make them that were on display, despite occasional struggles. Five Zags scored in double-figures, led by Nigel Williams-Goss (20 points, nine rebounds, six assists). And with perhaps the best defensive unit Mark Few’s ever had, the Zags were all over the Volunteers early.

A first half that saw Gonzaga turn 10 Tennessee turnovers into 12 points, eight of which came on fast breaks, was capped with a Silas Melson (nine points) steal and slam at the buzzer.

Tennessee, which nearly took down North Carolina at home last week, turned it around in the second half. With foul trouble mounting for Gonzaga — Melson and Zach Collins (10 points) both fouled out of the game, four Zags finished with four fouls and even Mark Few picked up a technical — Tennessee turned up the pressure in the second half and cut Gonzaga’s lead from a high of 21 points down to just four on multiple occasions.

Entering today, the Zags owned the nation’s best three-point percentage defense (26.3 percent). Tennessee knocked down 10 of 24 attempts from long distance, seven coming in the second half.

While a win is a win, and this one pushes the best start in Gonzaga history to 11-0, it still showed that Gonzaga has room to grow in some areas, particularly on the offensive glass.

Tennessee pulled down 20 offensive rebounds, which led to 17 second-chance points. Through the first 10 games of the season, Gonzaga’s opponents have been grabbing 33 percent of their missed shots, putting Gonzaga in the bottom 100 nationally in defensive rebounding. While Gonzaga has a top-10 shooting defense, which leads to a lot of missed shots and thus potential offensive rebounds, the Zags get outworked on the glass night in and night out.

They’ve managed to stay undefeated despite that, and next up for Gonzaga is a date with South Dakota in Spokane on Dec. 21. It’s the Zags’ final game before the start of West Coast Conference play.

Tennessee, now 6-5, heads to East Tennessee State on Thursday in their final game before SEC play begins.