In a top-5 matchup and national attention, the Kennel hosted the highest-profile game in its history. The student section was raucous, the scouts flocked to Spokane and ESPN 2 showed an absolute clinic hosted by Texas’ own Drew Timme. Here are some initial thoughts from last night’s action.
- You would have to be blind to miss this but Drew Timme is pretty good folks! He’s the first player in 20 years to score 35 points on 75% shooting against a top-5 team. Timme scored at will from the tip, scoring 11 of the first 13 points for the Zags. He made 14 of his 19 attempts and showed his elite footwork and progression of his game to include a few midrange looks. Timme shows an adeptness at crab-dribbling, spinning and pivoting that make him nearly impossible to defend one-on-one.
- For whatever reason, Beard never made major adjustments to how he had his frontcourt defend Timme. The Longhorns showed little fronting or doubling, allowing Timme to largely receive the ball wherever he pleased down-low. To some degree, it makes sense that Beard avoided doubling as there isn’t a clear preference of another Zag you’re ok getting open looks and lanes to the basket.
- Chet Holmgren had a quiet night in terms of stats and scoring thanks to Timme’s usage, but he displayed his game-altering abilities again by deterring any sort of shot attempts in the paint by the Longhorns. He did get in foul trouble, with 4 personal fouls coming in the second half, and will need to learn to pick his spots where he leaves his feet. But Holmgren as an escape valve on both sides of the court will be massive in spots.
- The game-within-the-game between Andrew Nembhard and Marcus Carr was a major talking part leading up to last night. Nembhard asserted himself into the flow of the game and scored 9 points with 8 assists while playing the entire game. After a quiet opening against Dixie State, Nembhard showed that he’s an elite ball handler that can lead the offense and ensure the offense executes to its potential.
- After coughing up the ball 11 times in the first half in their opener, the Zags had just 7 turnovers in the entirety of last night’s game, 5 of them coming from Timme in high usage. Nembhard had the lone turnover from the backcourt, which is a promising sign for a platoon of three new faces and Strawther in a new role.
- Rasir Bolton will be an incredibly valuable piece to this team and a major factor in their hopes of returning to the national championship. He’s proven to be a capable leader in the fast break, solid defender and offense initiator. He’s shown an incredible ability to find his shot while still remaining in the flow of the team’s offense and appears to be their most dependable outside shooter, going 7 for 10 in the first two games of the season. The looks he’s getting off-ball are the best he’s seen throughout his college career and he’s making the most of them.
- With Mark Few back on the sidelines, we’ve already seen the rotations get justifiably tighter. As previously mentioned, Nembhard played all 40 minutes of the game and the Timme Show had a 38 minute runtime. The Zags played 8 guys and that will likely be the normal rotation in these high-profile non-conference matchups. It will be interesting to follow Hunter Sallis (4 minutes) and Ben Gregg and Kaden Perry (DNPs) development throughout the season and how Few uses this incredible depth come tournament time.
- The defense is going to be this team’s calling card. Texas’s offense came alive a bit near midway of the second half when the game was bordering on being out of reach, but when the Bulldogs were active and engaged it was a tough night for the Longhorns to get going. Texas did shoot 37.5% but the makes came from unlikely contributors like forward Timmy Allen (2 for 4 attempts). Their backcourt combined for 5-16 from three and never looked particularly comfortable. The Longhorns also had two shot-clock violations due to the defense not offering any good looks.
- Anton Watson’s confidence is off the charts and is arguably the best sixth man in the country. Watson is a force on defense both in the post and closing off lanes. He’s also become a dependable offensive player providing efficient scoring inside. He went 0-3 from outside but none of those shots were out of the flow of the offense or forced. Seeing him develop some confidence in his game truly makes Gonzaga the premier frontcourt in the country.
- It will be interesting to see as this season goes on where the floor for this team is. The Zags were a bit complacent at about the 30-minute mark of gameplay and yet they still averaged 1.344 points per possession against a team that’s entire philosophy is to compete physically and grind games out. While the Bulldogs are not a proficient team from outside, they have the potential to have several guys get hot on any given night. While there are several more teams deserving to be in the conversation for national champions, this Gonzaga team’s floor may be as high—if not higher—than last season’s incredible squad.