Mark Few was in the final stages of preparing a game plan for Merrimack when Gonzaga’s coach got word the Bulldogs’ ensuing game against Washington had been cancelled due to ongoing COVID-19 issues within the Huskies’ program.
Understandably, Few had little time to process the news, let alone sketch out a revised schedule for the next week when he was asked Thursday night about how the Bulldogs would handle a nine-day layoff wedged between the Merrimack game and Saturday’s neutral-site contest against Texas Tech in Phoenix.
“What do you do for the next nine days?” one reporter asked.
“That’s a great question,” Few said.
When another reported posed a similar query – “How much time will be spent focusing on your own team versus preparing for Texas Tech?” – Few delivered an identical response.
“Yeah, that’s a great question,” he said.
For the second consecutive year, the Zags are facing an unusually long pause in the heart of their nonconference season as a result of COVID-19. In 2020-21, nine Gonzaga players came down with the virus at various points, causing the Bulldogs to cancel the five games they were scheduled to play between Dec. 5-14.
By the time Gonzaga takes the court against Texas Tech, the Bulldogs will have gone eight full days without a game, have played just one game (Merrimack) over a 14-day stretch and only two games (Merrimack and Alabama) between Nov. 29 and Dec. 18.
Gonzaga can’t necessarily use last year’s situation as a model for how to handle the layoff this season, though. Due to quarantine regulations, the Bulldogs were unable to practice as a full team last season until a few days before they resumed play against No. 3 Iowa.
This time, Gonzaga has eight opportunities to get onto the practice floor before its last major test of the nonconference slate. It’s a valuable window the Bulldogs will use to self-reflect and get a head start on preparations for another highly-anticipated game against Texas Tech, which improved to 7-1 after a 57-52 win over No. 13 Tennessee.
Exactly how Few and his fellow coaches are divvying up the time and energy between those two objectives was still unclear as of Thursday night.
“I think we need to really use it to kind of work on ourselves and even individual stuff, get better at shooting and getting stronger with the ball. Defensively moving our feet,” Few said. “Then you get to sprinkle in earlier than usual, because playing against Tech much like playing against this team tonight, it’s not something you face and it’s tough to simulate that defense.”
In theory, Gonzaga should have more preparation days than its opponent, which has to plan for Tuesday’s game against Arkansas State before it can devote its full attention to the fifth-ranked Bulldogs and Saturday’s game at the Jerry Colangelo Classic.
Despite a top-five ranking and a pair of impressive top-10 wins over Texas and UCLA, the Bulldogs themselves are nowhere close to being a finished product …….