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Gonzaga Basketball

Gonzaga guard Andrew Nembhard snaps mini slump with strong all-around showing against Texas Tech

Gonzaga guard Andrew Nembhard (3) celebrates with forward Drew Timme (2) and guard Matthew Lang (right) after the Zags win over Texas Tech on Saturday in Phoenix.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

PHOENIX – It looked like a receiving line after a wedding ceremony as Andrew Nembhard walked by the first row of seats behind Gonzaga’s bench, hugging players’ parents and posing for pictures with friends and fans while cradling a player of the game plaque.

After several games on the outs with his 3-point shooting and taking care of the ball, Gonzaga’s senior point guard reunited with both aspects Saturday in a big way. The timing couldn’t have been better for the Zags, who rode a wave of 3-pointers past No. 25 Texas Tech 69-55.

The fifth-ranked Zags made major improvement in two areas that had emerged as concern spots – 3-point accuracy and high turnover totals – and earned a passing grade in another, maintaining their lead in crunch time after breaking away from a two-point game with 14:20 left.

Nembhard, 0 of 11 on 3s in his past four games and carrying a 26.5 percentage from distance entering the game, buried one 3 in the first half and three more in the second. Nemhbard and Anton Watson, 1 of 6 on 3s prior to Saturday, went back-to-back from deep to boost GU’s lead to 48-40.

“It was nice (to see shots fall), honestly,” said Nembhard, who battled blurry vision in the first half after getting poked in his right eye. “I had a little slump. Look to continue to make shots in the future.”

“Six assists, one turnover, three steals, that’s a huge line,” Zags coach Mark Few interjected.

Nembhard led the Zags with 16 points – his highest point total since a dazzling 24-point performance against UCLA – and six assists. Even with four made 3s, Nembhard wasn’t the most productive Zag from distance. That honor went to senior guard Rasir Bolton, who connected five times, including three in the first half when his teammates (3 of 10) were struggling behind the arc.

A few sloppy miscues in the closing minutes prevented the Zags from just their second single-digit turnover game of the season, but the outcome was already decided. GU had its three highest turnover totals (17, 16 and 17) in the previous four games, but limited that number to 10 against the Red Raiders, who normally force 17.1 per game.

“It was huge,” Nemhbard said of Gonzaga’s ball security. “That was definitely something we’ve been struggling with in the past, especially with a team like this, how handsy they are, how they switch and kind of muck it up it was going to be a big key to the game. Not sure how many turnovers we had, but not a lot of live-ball turnovers.”

Bolton, who faced Texas Tech three times during his two seasons at Iowa State, has been Gonzaga’s best 3-point shooter. He’s made a team-leading 24 3s at a 42.9% clip, best among rotation players.

The grad transfer didn’t come in with glossy 3-point stats – 36% at Penn State as a freshman, 32.8% at Iowa State – but he’s been a key addition, much like North Texas transfer Ryan Woolridge, who had similar 3-point stats before connecting on 43.2% in his lone season with the Zags.

“I’m tired of seeing him,” Texas Tech coach Mark Adams said with a smile. “We had a lot of respect for him at Iowa State. Just a great player in so many ways. He’s made Gonzaga a lot better. I told him after the game I don’t want to see him in another color uniform (next year).”

Bolton was the beneficiary with Texas Tech opting to crowd forwards Drew Timme and Chet Holmgren.

“Coach gave us a scout on how they play defense,” Bolton said. “I’m just trying to find open spots for guys like Andrew and Drew so they can kick it out. There were a few more open ones.”

Gonzaga hasn’t been involved in many close games, but it sputtered down the stretch in losses to Duke and Alabama. Crunch time came earlier against the Red Raiders, who pulled within 42-40 before the Zags answered with four 3s to build a 56-42 lead.

The Zags led 67-50 on Nembhard’s fourth 3 with just under 6 minutes left. They didn’t score again until Nembhard’s layup with 55 ticks remaining, but their defense held Texas Tech to five points during that stretch.

“I guess that’s who we are, what we’re made of as a team and a unit sticking together,” Bolton said. “We weathered the runs and ultimately coming out and winning games. I feel like that’s us.”