Chet Holmgren matches Gonzaga single-game blocks record, makes more history in dazzling college debut
Nov. 9, 2021 Updated Mon., Nov. 15, 2021 at 3:37 p.m.
Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren blocks a shot by Dixie State guard Jamaal Barnes during in the first half of Tuesday’s game. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Chet Holmgren may not win 132 games as a college basketball player, nor is it likely he’ll spend enough time at Gonzaga to amass 1,500 points or play in the NCAA Tournament four times.
But in at least one regard Tuesday, Holmgren was able to match a Zag great who accomplished all three things during a decorated five-year career in Spokane.
Up until Tuesday’s season opener against Dixie State, just one Gonzaga player over the course of the last 22 years – the time span otherwise known as the Mark Few era – had blocked seven shots in a single game. It happened on Feb. 2, 2014, a day Przemek Karwnowski gave West Coast Conference rival Saint Mary’s constant fits at the rim, rejecting seven shots in a 73-51 victory over the Gaels.
For five years, GU opponents had to deal with Karnowski Mountain. For at least one season, they’ll face a new challenge: Holmgren Hill.
Making his much-anticipated college debut, the 7-footer from Minnesota who was considered the nation’s top recruit last year had already blocked five shots by the time the Bulldogs and Dixie State made it to the halftime break.
Less than 5 minutes into the second half, Holmgren stuffed a shot from Dixie State’s Hunter Schofield, placing him one block shy of Gonzaga’s single-game record. Then, at the 4:35 mark, Dixie State’s Frank Staine tried to challenge Gonzaga’s long-legged, long-armed rookie at the rim. Holmgren got a piece of the shot and a piece of history, matching the record set by Karnowski seven years earlier.
Holmgren didn’t know of the record at the time, nor did the highly touted freshman spend too much time pondering it afterward. Either way, there’s something new to shoot for in a season that could see Holmgren and the Bulldogs play at least 30 more games if they’re able to make another deep NCAA Tournament run.
“It’s pretty cool, but again like I say, I’m always going out there trying to get better every single game,” Holmgren said. “I’m not just shooting for seven, I’m just going out there playing defense trying to stop the other team.”
Holmgren’s night ended with approximately 3 minutes remaining in the second half. By then, he’d not only blocked seven shots but also scored 14 points to go with 13 rebounds and six assists. His five turnovers may have served as the only reminder Holmgren is still a true freshman capable of making young mistakes.
During a postgame interview, Holmgren learned he became the first Division I college basketball player with at least 10 points, 10 rebounds, five assists and five blocked shots in his debut – a nugget provided by ESPN’s Stats and Information department.
“It’s pretty cool to hear that, but I’m just happy we were able to go out there and come out with a win,” Holmgren said. “We had a lot of great performances from other guys on the team, great plays.”
Holmgren should be able to match, and almost surely, exceed the scoring and rebounding numbers he had on Tuesday, but it could take a Herculean effort to reach eight blocks and officially claim the school record for himself.
“Obviously, we know Chet’s a special shot-blocker,” Gonzaga acting head coach Brian Michaelson said. “We’ve seen stretches of that in practice where it’s tough for guys to get shots off of him.”
It was the sheer mass of Karnowski, at 7-feet and 300 pounds, that made the Polish center such an intimidating presence at the rim. Years later, Brandon Clarke set a standard for GU shot-blockers with his exceptional combination of length and athleticism. Holmgren, who brings a 7-6 wingspan to the paint, could become the standard before too long.
“He’s really unique in that he can block shots on and off the ball,” Michaelson said. “A lot of times you get great off-ball shot blockers. Obviously, a guy like Brandon Clarke comes to mind there. He was so special and obviously broke the record here for a single season, but Chet’s ability to block shots on and off the ball is really impressive.
“The other thing that’s unique about him and what helps with that is he can block shots with both hands and that’s pretty unique, too. He can really go up and find where that ball is and that’s important to how we play, because this group does pressure the ball a lot.”
While Holmgren and Karnowski are the only players with seven blocks in a single game, six Zags have recorded at least six in the Few era. Those include Clarke (twice), Zach Collins, Austin Daye, Josh Heytvelt, Robert Sacre and Abdulla Kuso (twice).
Holmgren, who’s widely expected to spend just one season in college, is off to a solid start if he hopes to have any chance of breaking Clarke’s GU single-season blocks record of 117, set in 2018-19. Clarke averaged 3.8 blocks per game that season but had zero in his GU debut against Idaho State.
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