INDIANAPOLIS – The college basketball world spent the better part of 48 hours anticipating the matchup.
Drew Timme and Evan Mobley didn’t disappoint.
Although Tuesday’s Elite Eight game between No. 1-seeded Gonzaga and No. 5 seed USC became lopsided early and stayed that way throughout an 85-66 Bulldogs win, the 6,166 fans in attendance at Lucas Oil Stadium still got their money’s worth from a high-profile duel between two future NBA players in Timme vs. Mobley.
On the game’s first play, Timme picked Tahj Eaddy’s pocket, drove the length of the floor and missed his first layup before grabbing the offensive board and going up a second time while drawing a foul on Mobley.
Gonzaga’s 7-0 run to open the game was halted when Mobley converted a second-chance layup with Timme defending down low.
Then it was Timme’s turn again: The sophomore scored four of Gonzaga’s next five baskets, including a two-handed transition dunk that saw Timme run from end to end, seep into the paint, collect a pass from Jalen Suggs between two USC defenders and jam the ball through the basket.
Mobley responded two possessions later by catching a high pass over Corey Kispert, eluding Suggs, taking one dribble to the basket and elevating his 7-foot frame for an easy dunk.
When Timme got a turnaround jumper to fall on GU’s next possession, Mobley answered again, drawing a foul on Kispert and making both free throws.
Gonzaga’s depth, scoring and defensive acumen proved too much for USC to handle, but had it been only Timme and Mobley in the ring, there’s a chance the fight would’ve gone nine or 10 rounds.
“He’s very crafty in the lane using his body, his fakes, side fake, shot fake, up-fake, and he has that little flip shot he throws in there,” USC coach Andy Enfield said of Timme. “He played a great game tonight. I thought he finished a lot of shots in the lane. Some of them were contested, and they still went in. So I thought that was a big difference in the first half.”
Timme (23 points) outscored Mobley (17) and both players finished with five rebounds. Timme was more disruptive on the defensive end, generating three steals, and Mobley’s rim protection wasn’t as effective as it’s been most of the season. The USC center failed to block a shot for just the second time this season.
Prior to the game, some wondered if Timme, at 6-foot-10 and 235 pounds, could handle the exceptional length and athleticism of Mobley, who was the player of the year, defensive player of the year and freshman of the year in the Pac-12 Conference.
Timme and the Bulldogs certainly didn’t shut down the future NBA lottery pick. Mobley’s 17 points matched his NCAA Tournament high, but the Zags prevented him from getting easy looks inside and held him to 5 of 11 (45%) from the field. It was Mobley’s worst shooting percentage since USC’s semifinal loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament.
“I know some people were worried about how he’s going to handle the size in there, but I think our staff and Drew and his teammates knew he was going to be fine,” GU coach Mark Few said. “He’s faced many, many, many big lineups and shot blockers and such. He always figures out a way to get to his shot. It’s not the same shot every time watching him. It’s a different move, different shot each and every time.”
Suggs said the Bulldogs felt Timme’s impact on both ends of the floor.
“Drew did a good job ducking in Evan on a lot of those that kind of took the shot blocker out of the way so we could have easy lanes,” he said. “He was dominant today, especially early, man. He came out and set the tone, attacking Evan on the inside, and on the defensive end, man, with the steal to start the game off. Like, what, Drew with the pickpocket? No, he was great tonight. He was spectacular like always. His impact is massive. We all feed off of one another, and that’s what gets us going every night.”
Timme was held to a low shooting percentage by his standards, going just 10 of 19, but the Trojans’ zone defense still allowed him to creep into the middle of the paint for a handful of uncontested shots.
“We started out in zone, and our zone principles are, when people are in the middle, not to really rush up because we’d rather have them shoot the contested midrange and stuff like that,” Mobley said. “But they kept getting it to the middle, and then it would just cause miscommunications and stuff. That’s where (Timme) got most of his buckets, in the middle of the paint.”
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