PHOENIX – Limiting Drew Timme’s production in the paint has become a massive undertaking for the majority of Gonzaga’s opponents the past two seasons.
Looking only at the numbers posted by the junior forward on Saturday afternoon, it would’ve been natural to think No. 25 Texas Tech had found a way to upset No. 5 Gonzaga.
Timme scored seven points on just four attempts from the field – his lowest point total of the year and just the second time in the past 44 games GU’s preseason All-American was held to less than five field-goal attempts.
But denying Timme came at a cost for the Red Raiders and Gonzaga found an opportune time to emerge from its 3-point shooting rut, drilling a season-high 13 shots from distance to win 69-55 at the Jerry Colangelo Classic at Footprint Center.
The Bulldogs (9-2) improved to 3-2 against Top 25 opposition and will play just one more game, Tuesday against Northern Arizona, before going on a five-day holiday break.
After shooting 28% from beyond the arc in its past four games, perhaps all Gonzaga needed was a trip to the Valley of the Sun to heat up from the 3-point line. The backcourt pairing of Rasir Bolton and Andrew Nembhard combined to make nine 3s and Gonzaga finished 13 of 31 as a team.
“We gave them a little confidence there, didn’t we?” Texas Tech coach Mark Adams said postgame when a reporter cited Gonzaga’s 3-point clip the past four games. “We were hoping, a team like Gonzaga you hope you can have a few things go your way. But we knew one thing, they were very good around the rim and in the paint, not even with the bigs but their guards driving and finishing.
“We thought we could at least hopefully contest and make it difficult for the bigs and on the driving and take our chances from the 3-point line.”
Texas Tech lured Gonzaga into a 3-point contest and the Bulldogs obliged, taking 55% of their total shots attempts from behind the arc. It was the first time since a 2017 game against Pacific the Zags shot more 3s than shots inside the arc, their most 3-point attempts since a 2018 game against Portland (35) and the biggest disparity between shots inside the arc and 3-pointers since a 2013 game against BYU.
Bolton, who made 5 of 10 from the 3-point line, finished with 15 points while Nembhard busted out of a distance shooting slump by scoring 16 points on 4 of 8 from beyond the arc. Nembhard had gone four straight games without a 3-pointer, shooting 0 for 11 during that stretch.
“It’s just about making the right basketball play,” Few said of GU’s perimeter shooting. “These guys are great, we empower them to do that and make their reads and make the right basketball play. We just go out there and expect to make the right basketball play.”
Texas Tech’s offense sputtered early and late without star guard Terrence Shannon Jr., a projected NBA draft pick who didn’t play due to back spasms, but the Red Raiders clawed back into the game in the second half and used an 8-0 run to trim the deficit to 42-40 with 14:18 to play.
Gonzaga’s response, as it was much of the game, came in the form of timely 3-point shooting. Nembhard made his second of the game from the elbow and reserve forward Anton Watson followed with a 3-pointer from the right corner – just the second of the season for the Spokane native – to restore an eight-point Gonzaga lead.
Watson’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed, especially as the Red Raiders deployed double teams on Timme to neutralize Gonzaga’s top scorer. Freshman center Chet Holmgren also spent much of the game in foul trouble, playing only 24 minutes. Watson scored 10 points, hauled down four rebounds, registered two steals and nearly produced a highlight-reel moment in the first half while trying a poster dunk on Texas Tech’s Bryson Williams.
“I think it’s just the next-man-up approach, honestly,” Nembhard said. “Anton Watson’s a huge piece for us and came into the game and made a huge impact. So it’s the next man up.”
The fourth 3-pointer from Nembhard put Gonzaga up 17 points with under 6 minutes to play and the teams combined to score six points inside the final 5 minutes, allowing the Bulldogs to walk out with a relatively comfortable victory.
Gonzaga’s defense held Texas Tech to its lowest point total of the season (previously 57) and the Red Raiders shot just 21 of 56 (37%) from the field, along with 6 of 19 (31%) from the 3-point line.
“We felt like we were trying to play catch up all night,” Adams said. “Gonzaga is such an efficient team, they do so many things well. They missed some shots early and some 3s. We were able to keep Timme and Chet in check, we did a good job with those guys, that was our emphasis.”
It wasn’t enough. GU – which entered the game shooting 32.9% from deep – rediscovered its stroke from outside.
“But then, they’re such a balanced offensive team that they got the ball to those 3-point shooters and they made some big shots,” Adams said. “… The thing that jumps out to me is the 3-point shooting.”