Gonzaga junior Drew Timme’s immaculate footwork and post moves have made him a candidate for national player of the year, but only a few get to experience those moves up close.
They’re reserved for Timme’s teammates in practice and opponents in games.
So what’s it like to guard the 6-foot-10 forward?
That was Lewis-Clark State College grad student Al Sommerfield’s assignment Friday at McCarthey Athletic Center, along with stretches when he defended the Zags’ quintet of bigs that includes Chet Holmgren, Anton Watson, Kaden Perry and Ben Gregg.
“You know that he’s like the preseason player of the year, so that’s fun going into the game,” said Sommerfield, who scored LCSC’s first five points in a 112-62 exhibition loss. “He’s going to give you a lot. I tried to stay down and move my feet, but he’s pretty good.”
Sommerfield and his teammates struggled to contain Timme and Gonzaga’s frontcourt players. The fivesome combined for 55 points. The Zags finished with 62 paint points.
Timme was on a roll from the outset, driving past Sommerfield for a layup and later catching an entry pass from Holmgren deep in the paint and finishing with a three-point play.
“He has an endless repertoire (of moves), knows when to use them, really good footwork,” the 6-7, 200-pound Sommerfield said . “He’s really good with his shoulders, too.”
Timme had 19 points in the first half and finished with 25 on 9-of-14 shooting. He was 7 of 7 at the free-throw line while drawing five fouls. Timme isn’t shy about expressing himself on the court, but he apparently let his play do the talking against LCSC.
“No, he didn’t get into me too much,” Sommerfield said. “Honestly, I didn’t really hear him.”
Sommerfield, a transfer from NCAA Division II Alaska Fairbanks, found open space after setting a ball screen 30 feet from the hoop and catching a pass in the lane. Holmgren closed the gap in a hurry and blocked Sommerfield’s shot. The LCSC forward quickly retrieved the ball and scored on a layup.
“He’s good, long and that makes it really tough,” Sommerfield said of Holmgren. “The (7-6) wingspan is crazy. It was tough for us to get around, but I thought we did a pretty decent job. He blocked me a few times.
“No matter what we did and tried, the athleticism and the length they have is tough to match up with for anyone, but I thought we did a pretty good job with it.”
Mixing it up
Although Gonzaga fashioned a wire-to-wire rout of Eastern Oregon last Sunday with a starting lineup that included Andrew Nembhard, Rasir Bolton, Julian Strawther, Holmgren and Timme, the Bulldogs trotted out a slightly different unit before tipoff against LCSC.
Taking Strawther’s place was Nolan Hickman, a freshman guard who gives the Bulldogs a different look, especially with his ball-handling and aggressive on-ball defense.
It’s unclear which way Gonzaga will go when the regular season opens next week with games against Dixie State and No. 5 Texas, but the Bulldogs won’t be scarce when it comes to options.
“It’s the versatility of this team. We have so many guys that are capable,” Gonzaga assistant/acting head coach Brian Michaelson said. “Again, I think the gift of this team is going to be the effort we can put out because we have multiple bodies.”
Not that the Bulldogs needed a reminder, but Strawther provided another example of what he can offer after reclaiming his starting spot in the second half. A modest first half for the second-year freshman wing was followed by a hot second half, with Strawther scoring nine points in just 12 minutes – and on 3-of-4 shooting – to finish with 13 for the game.
Hickman registered a team-high 22 minutes. Despite finishing with six points on 2-of-5 shooting, the Seattle native made a clear impact with the game’s best plus/minus, at +44.
“Obviously, Nolan’s more of a primary ball-handler, Rasir’s been a primary ball-handler at points in his career,” Michaelson said. “Obviously, that’s what Andrew is, so it gives you a really strong ball-handling lineup. Nolan’s a really capable 3-point shooter, but obviously not quite the size of Julian.”
3-pointers by committee
Without one of the top shooters in the nation, Gonzaga will take a different approach to its 3-point shooting this season.
The Bulldogs don’t have anyone on the roster who’ll take 3-pointers at the volume that Corey Kispert did last season. Nor is there anyone who’ll make them with the efficiency fans came to expect from Kispert, now a rookie with the Washington Wizards who attempted 12.5 per game in 2020-21 and connected on 44.5%.
“I think there’s nine guys that can legitimately shoot 3s and it’s obviously going to be different than last year where you had Corey who was as elite a shooter as we’ve had here and as good a shooter as there was in college basketball,” Michaelson said. “It’s going to be more by committee this year.”
Through two exhibitions, Gonzaga’s 3-point shooting continues to be a work in progress. The 10 players expected to see significant playing time this year are a combined 12 of 41 (29%) from beyond the arc. The starters have made 8 of 29 (27%).
But there’s reason to believe in GU’s ceiling as a 3-point shooting team. Nembhard and Bolton have achieved season 3-point shooting percentages of 35% and 36%, respectively, at their previous schools and Strawther connected on 43% at GU last season. Holmgren, Hickman and Sallis were accomplished 3-point shooters at the high school level while Watson and Timme are big men who should stretch the defense with their ability to pop out and make the occasional 3.
“We’ve got a lot of good shooters. It’s good to get them out under the lights and playing against a different opponent,” Michaelson said. “But I really like how many guys we can have taking 3s. I think we legitimately have nine guys who are going to take 3s this year. Perry’s probably the one guy that’s not quite there, but it’s something we always work on here.
“Shooting is something we work on every day at Gonzaga and now that everyone’s had a chance to kind of see what it’s like under the lights and in the games, I think we’re going to be a good 3-point shooting team.”
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