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Gonzaga Basketball

Chet Holmgren-Paolo Banchero matchup was entertaining, but took back seat to classic Gonzaga-Duke contest

Duke’s Paolo Banchero goes past Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren in the Continental Tire Challenge on Friday at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas.  (Jesse Tinsley/The Spokesman-Review)


Most of Friday’s pregame hype centered on the matchup of freshman standouts Chet Holmgren of Gonzaga and Paolo Banchero of Duke. Both have been projected at or near the top of most NBA mock drafts.

Banchero looked NBA ready with one of the most dominant halves against the Zags in years.

The 6-foot-10 freshman from Seattle’s O’Dea High torched Gonzaga for 20 points, operating smoothly in the lane and beyond the 3-point arc.

Holmgren had his moments, but he picked up two fouls in the first half and sat for extended minutes. He played much better in the final 20 minutes, finishing with 16 points, seven boards and three blocks.

Meanwhile, Banchero’s second half was derailed by cramps that were so bad he said both his quads locked up. He played limited minutes and was clearly not at full speed when he was on the court.

He finished with just one point in the second half.

“I don’t think it was about Paolo and Chet,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They’re two great players with great futures ahead, they’re both winners. I think they’d probably say the same thing that it wasn’t ever about that (matchup).

“I’m sure you’ll be seeing them guarding each other and playing against other for the next 15, 18 years.

“Paolo was terrific how he came out and was just a handful, but I also thought Chet did a great job responding. I thought he flipped the switch really well, as well as our whole team.”

Both teams showed off their depth of talent, from the starting unit to clutch bench contributions that ultimately tipped the outcome in Duke’s favor, 84-81.

Gonzaga sophomore and Las Vegas native Julian Strawther produced team highs with 20 points and 10 rebounds. He made three of GU’s six 3-pointers.

“The kid Strawther, big time,” Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said “He’s a key guy for them. We thought he was good. He was better.”

Drew Timme added 17 points but struggled at times to finish against Duke’s interior size.

Rasir Bolton’s first-half 3-pointers kept GU within striking range. Andrew Nembhard had a tough shooting night, but finished with 11 assists and eight boards. Anton Watson added five points and two assists off the bench.

Duke countered with game MVP Wendell Moore Jr., who had 20 points, 16 in the closing half.

Jeremy Roach chipped in nine points, including a pair of key baskets in the final minutes. Forward Mark Williams was a presence in the paint throughout, scoring 17 points, grabbing nine boards and swatting five shots.

The Blue Devils rallied late as Gonzaga’s offense committed three costly turnovers and endured a 3-minute, 34-second dry spell.

Duke moved in front 76-73 before Timme connected on a bank shot with 1:35 left.

“It felt like a Final Four-type game,” Timme said. “The atmosphere was great and it was two goliaths going at it. They came out with their best shot and we were a little flat, but I couldn’t be more proud of this team for withstanding that and being able to come back.

“We felt like had a chance to win that game at the end and it was self-inflicted. We’re a young team and still learning every day. We haven’t even got close to conference yet. We’re going to take the challenge and we’re excited for rest of the season.”