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Gonzaga bounces back in win over Kentucky, 88-72

The offense came alive.

NCAA Basketball: Kentucky at Gonzaga James Snook-USA TODAY Sports

The high profile billing of Drew Timme vs. Oscar Tshiebwe was as advertised. Ultimately, it was the supporting cast of Gonzaga that provided enough offensive firepower for an authoritative win by the Gonzaga Bulldogs over the Kentucky Wildcats, 88-72.

This was exactly the game Gonzaga needed to display after their loss to Texas on Wednesday. Wednesday night, Gonzaga looked like a team that definitely was not ranked No. 2 and hardly should have been ranked in the top 25. Tonight, the potential of the Zags was on display as they took an early lead over Kentucky they never relinquished for the whole game.

The energy was there from the beginning. Julian Strawther was everyone on the court. The Zags offense was running in a way we know is possible and haven’t really seen since the opening game against North Florida. The Zags built up an early 10 point lead and never looked back.

It wasn’t all pretty, of course. Turnovers continued to be an issue. The Zags finished with 18 on the game, but had eight in rapid succession early on. Kentucky could not capitalize, however. The Zags’ defense did a solid job of forcing the Wildcats into contested shots. Tshiebwe still got his points, as usual, but the rest of the team couldn’t do much to help out. As a team, the Wildcats shot just 39 percent from the floor.

We also witnessed the return of big game Timme. With the national spotlight on, the mustache rides, arm flexes, and celebrations were back. And with good reason. Timme finished with 22 points, often times exploiting the Kentucky offense as a trailing big man putting the defense through the spin cycle in route to an and-one.

Gonzaga took a 16 point lead into half, but there wasn’t much of a reason to think it would stay that far away. Kentucky shot just 25 percent from the floor in the first half. Eventually, some of those buckets would have to fall. In the second half, Jacob Toppin found his stroke and Kentucky started to threaten, pulling to within single digits and eventually four points.

Rasir Bolton had something to say about that. Bolton scored 19 of his game-high 24 points in the second half, taking over the Gonzaga offense and providing the necessary offensive sparks to keep the lead in Gonzaga’s favor.

Even with all of those big and gaudy numbers (and we haven’t mentioned Strawther’s 20 points and 14 rebounds), the player of the game was Anton Watson. Watson finished with 10 and 10 rebounds. It was his defense, as usual, that was the star of the game, containing Kentucky’s big men to the best of his abilities. We also saw the glimpses of aggressive Anton, a sight that occasionally reveals itself. Only this time, he did it with the most authority he has throughout his college career.

Considering that in the past two games, the Zags had basically played only 20 minutes of quality basketball, this game hopefully talked a good majority of Spokane nation off the ledge. The issues are still present. Turnovers were too many. Hickman was plagued by foul trouble. Efton Reid actually ended up sacrificing some of his game minutes to Ben Gregg.

These early games are for figuring out what works. And Few tightened the screws of the rotation to pull out this win. It isn’t going to be a consistent formula as the year continues, but if the Zags are getting big outings out of Strawther and Timme, plus one more supporting cast member, they will be a difficult out each and every night.

With the PK85 looming and Baylor after that, the Zags needed this win badly.