First, No. 4 Villanova visited No. 2 UCLA on Friday. Then, No. 1 Gonzaga entertained No. 5 Texas on Saturday.
The benefit of two of college basketball’s biggest nonconference games being staged in ear-splitting environments at campus arenas in the first week of the season wasn’t lost on Texas coach Chris Beard and Gonzaga counterpart Mark Few after the Zags’ 86-74 win Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
It brought much-needed attention and eyeballs to the sport as college football’s regular season winds down.
“After the game in the handshake line, coach (Few) was like, ‘Hey, Chris, thanks for coming here and playing the game,’ ” Beard said. “Right back at you, coach, thank you for giving us the opportunity, and we’ll have these guys in Austin next year.”
“Sitting there (Friday) night watching Villanova play at UCLA, it’s what’s right, it’s what should happen in college basketball. I think the best teams in the country should play real road games. Coach Few has always been a guy that will do that and we will, too.”
“We set this thing up with (former Texas coach) Shaka (Smart), he’s a good friend of mine,” Few said. “But it was great when Chris got the job, he was excited to keep it going. We actually flipped it (to play first of two-game series at the Kennel) because they want us to open their new arena next year.”
Few called it a “phenomenal atmosphere” inside the Kennel, made even more special after playing inside virtually empty venues last season due to COVID-19 restrictions.
Beard, whose arrival has helped Texas set a record for season-ticket sales, applauded the environment.
“I’ve been fortunate in my coaching career to coach places where we developed a home-court atmosphere,” he said. “This is as good as I’ve seen with that student section down the sideline.”
Here are three more takeaways from Gonzaga’s victory.
‘Seasoned’ Zags come through
The matchup was billed as Gonzaga’s relatively youthful roster vs. the experienced, albeit mostly in non-Texas uniforms, Longhorns.
That storyline was supported by the stats: Entering Saturday, the 12 Longhorns with previous collegiate experience boasted 907 career games and 9,591 career points. Gonzaga’s roster, on the other hand, had played in 478 games and scored 3,993 points.
The Zags’ most experienced players – Drew Timme, Andrew Nembhard, Anton Watson and Iowa State grad transfer Rasir Bolton – delivered against Texas. Timme scored a career-best 37 points, his final points coming with 6:30 remaining.
Nembhard chipped in nine points, eight assists and two steals. Bolton, in his second game in a GU uniform, produced four 3-pointers, 16 points and three rebounds. Watson added 10 points and five boards in 19 minutes off the bench.
“Anton is a different player this year,” Few said of Watson. “He’s shot the ball extremely well from 3 throughout summer and fall and he had a couple that were in and out (vs. Texas). He’s being more assertive. I think he’s primed for a big year.”
Timme’s big night
Timme puts stress on defenses with adept finishes around the basket and the ability to apply foul pressure. Texas experienced it firsthand as Timme dominated in the lane against a variety of defenders, occasional double-teams and even a stretch of zone.
Timme credited the GU’s coaching staff’s game plan and the talented cast around him.
“Because they have a lot of other good players around him,” Beard said matter-of-factly, when asked why he didn’t employ more double-teams. “Fair question, right, we probably should have. A lot of times we did, we were just making mistakes.”
One example came early in the second half when Timmy Allen tried to help the primary defender on Timme but arrived too late. Timme split the two and scored inside.
“He’s a load, man,” said Allen, a first-team All-Pac-12 player at Utah last season. “He’s a true 6-10, he’s strong, he plays angles very well. He’s not the most athletic guy. I’ve never played someone like that. It’s hard to guard a guy like that when they have such good players around him.”
Holmgren’s “unseen” contributions
Freshman forward Chet Holmgren’s second game didn’t produce the record-setting stats of his debut, but his impact was bigger than the box score suggested.
Gonzaga led by 17 with 17:25 left when Holmgren made his only field goal. He battled foul trouble but still contributed with five rebounds, an assist, two blocks and several other shots that his 7-foot presence directed off target.
“He had a huge impact,” assistant coach Brian Michaelson said. “His length, he adds floor space with the way he shoots the ball. He rebounded it and pushed it a little bit. He’s another guy (like Watson) that guarded multiple guys, from (guards Courtney) Ramey to (Andrew) Jones on the perimeter to (forwards Tre) Mitchell, Allen and (Christian) Bishop. He guarded everyone.”
“That’s part of what makes Chet so unique and so amazing. He’s a team-first guy that cares about winning. A lot of things he does goes unseen. He threw a lot of those top-down (passes) to Drew, those post-ups. That’s hard for teams to deal with when Drew’s other forward is out on the perimeter and feeding it. It’s harder to get the doubles, harder to help off him. His impact always goes beyond the stat sheet.”
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