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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga takeaways: Gaels take away Zags’ frontcourt tandem

UPDATED: Sun., Feb. 27, 2022

MORAGA, Calif. – Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren walked through the lobby of the team hotel Saturday morning carrying a basketball and a pair of basketball shoes.

He signed in at a counter to use the hotel’s expansive workout facilities, which included basketball courts, and spent 30-plus minutes working on his game and putting up shots. About an hour before Saturday’s showdown against No. 23 Saint Mary’s, Holmgren was the first Zag on the University Credit Union Pavilion court for warmups, greeted by loud jeers from the Gaels’ student section.

Holmgren puts in hours of overtime preparing and it usually shows when he takes the floor. Saturday was one of the rare times when his prep work wasn’t rewarded with results.

He wasn’t alone. Holmgren, Drew Timme and most of the Zags were out of sorts throughout the Gaels’ 67-57 upset victory.

In our latest Gonzaga takeaways, we examine what Saint Mary’s did to contain the dynamic duo, point guard Tommy Kuhse giving the Zags fits again and several mind-boggling stats.

Gaels shut down Timme, Holmgren

Two nights after dominating San Francisco, Timme and Holmgren were held in check by the Gaels. The pair combined for just 12 points, equaling the Texas Tech game for their lowest output of the season. It marked just the third time Timme failed to reach double figures and the fourth for Holmgren.

There have been a couple of games where one dominated while the other played a secondary role. Holmgren had two points against Texas, but Timme poured in a career-high 37. Holmgren struck for 21 against LMU while Timme was held to eight.

Timme entered the game shooting nearly 76% in his career against the Gaels, but Saint Mary’s adjusted by sending more defenders his way.

“You can’t guard him one-on-one. You’ve got to bring help,” SMC coach Randy Bennett said. “Our other guys did a good job of doing what they were supposed to do to help stop Timme and Chet and those guys. He (Timme) saw a crowd, for sure. You just can’t give him a lot of room.”

Senior Matthias Tass and sophomore Mitchell Saxen were strong in stints as the primary defender on Timme. Kyle Bowen and Alex Ducas were solid defensively on Holmgren and Julian Strawther. Holmgren swatted four shots, but several Gaels had decent success taking the ball at the 7-foot freshman in the lane.

“We had three guys surrounding (Timme) and knocking the ball out his hands in the first half, and that kind of ruined his rhythm,” Tass said. “It was hard for him to bounce back from that.”

It was hard for other Zags to find their rhythm offensively with their top two scorers struggling. Bolton knocked down three 3-pointers and scored a team-high 16 points and Nembhard added 15 points on 6-of-18 shooting.

“It is rare (for both Timme and Holmgren to be off in the same game), but they are human and some nights aren’t going to be their nights. Shots just aren’t going to fall,” Bolton said. “We have to learn to play through, get through those games.”

Kuhse produces again

Kuhse, the Gaels’ all-time leader with 145 career games, had mixed results against the Zags the previous three years, but he’s made up for lost time this season.

The fifth-year senior directed a second-half comeback that came up short Feb. 12 in Spokane. He made four 3-pointers and scored 16 points to go with five assists. On Saturday, the former walk-on operated in the lane for seven 2-pointers en route to 14 points, six rebounds, five turnovers, four assists and two blocks.

On one second-half play, Kuhse misfired on a wild shot attempt and tumbled to the court near the baseline. The Zags raced down court in transition, but Kuhse hustled back in time to contest Bolton at the rim and force an air ball.

“It’s tough (keeping Kuhse out of the lane),” Bolton said. “He’s a high IQ guy. He’s probably been the same guard his whole life so you know he’s been learning how to play against athletic guys, against bigger guys, smaller guys.

“He knows the game and he executes every play. Tough in the ball screen, makes the right read so he’s definitely a tough cover.”

Head-scratching stats

The Zags were held to season lows in points (57), field-goal percentage (36.7) and assists (four). They entered the game first nationally in scoring (89.5) and field-goal percentage (53.0) and second in assists (18.9).

Gonzaga’s previous lows were 64 points and nine assists against Tarleton State and 40.3% shooting against Santa Clara in Spokane.

The Zags rank fourth nationally in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.61) but finished with 10 more turnovers than assists Saturday.

Nembhard, who played all 40 minutes, didn’t register an assist for the first time in 126 career games. He had one assist vs. Saint Mary’s in the first meeting last season.

GU lost the paint points battle just twice (Texas Tech 26-16 and Portland 32-28) before the Gaels claimed a 40-28 edge. The Zags made a season-high 18 3-pointers against Portland and 13 vs. the Red Raiders. They were 5 of 15 vs. Saint Mary’s.

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