Gonzaga junior forward Drew Timme offered a spot-on assessment of his 2 ½ seasons of involvement in the rivalry against BYU.
“They don’t back down. It’s a big rivalry game and the fun thing is we get their best shot, they get our best shot,” said Timme, who owns a 4-1 record in five contests against the Cougars. “I still have that bad taste in my mouth from (a loss) freshman year, so no love lost between us.
“It’ll be a great game. They’re great competitors and we’re looking forward to the challenge. Hopefully our students will be back for that game so we can get this place really rocking again.”
Gonzaga students have returned from holiday break and the Kennel Club figures to be at its boisterous best Thursday for BYU’s annual visit. The environment for GU-BYU at the McCarthey Athletic Center is always energetic, but Cougars sophomore forward Caleb Lohner may have provided an assist in that department with a comment he made Tuesday.
Lohner complimented Gonzaga’s transition game and Timme as “super crafty,” recalling “all sorts of times where he’ll have the ball and you think you have him guarded, but he’ll make some move – multiple moves – and he’s able to get where he wants to.”
Lohner also said “everyone hates Gonzaga, so it’ll be a lot of fun to play them.”
That’s not necessarily a news flash for Timme, a native Texan who, when asked about facing Texas in November, responded, “That’s the big state school back home and you’re either for them or against them. There’s no in between. It’s kind of like playing at GU, the same concept. It’s either you know GU and like GU or you hate them.”
Still, it should be interesting to watch since one of the biggest challenges facing BYU, Lohner and freshman forward Fousseyni Traore is the matchup against Timme, Chet Holmgren and Anton Watson.
The Zags’ trio combined for 55 points and 20 rebounds in last Saturday’s rout of Pepperdine. Watson is averaging 12.5 points and 6.2 boards over the last six games and All-American candidates Timme (team-high 16.8 points) and the 7-foot Holmgren (13.4 points, team-leading 8.4 rebounds and 47 blocks) form one of the nation’s top frontcourts.
The Cougars have lost two experienced bigs, 6-9 Gavin Baxter (knee) and 6-10 Richard Harward (complications from a heart issue) for the season, but Traore, a 6-6, 254-pound native of Mali, has emerged as a force inside. He has two double-doubles in the last four games. The 6-8, 235-pound Lohner averages 6.4 points and 6.5 rebounds.
The Cougars are playing more small ball and have concentrated on defense (allowing 61.9 points per game) and rebounding (plus 8.3 per game). They’re not scoring as many points as past BYU offenses, but they’ve won while scoring in the 60s three times and in the 50s twice, including a 52-43 victory over Saint Mary’s on Saturday.
Meanwhile, second-ranked Gonzaga leads the country in field-goal percentage (52.3), is No. 2 in scoring 87.9 and fifth in rebounding margin (plus 11.3).
“They always just play crazy, crazy hard and they come at you with a multitude of guys and play with great confidence,” GU coach Mark Few said. “They’re getting some really good play out of (Traore), and they’ve had a wonderful, successful nonleague.
“They’re top 25, top 30 in the NET, much like San Francisco and Saint Mary’s. It’s going to be as competitive and as good as I’ve seen the top end of the league in 32 years of being in the league.”
The Cougars, picked second behind GU in the coaches’ preseason poll, are in the midst of perhaps the toughest three-game stretch the WCC can offer. After shutting down Saint Mary’s on Saturday, BYU heads to San Francisco following Thursday’s date against the Zags. GU, USF and SMC are 38-8 combined.
“I don’t know if the league is mad at us for leaving (for the Big 12 in 2023-24) or whatever, but we’re the only team that’s doing that,” BYU coach Mark Pope said. “We’re excited for the challenge. Bring it. Let’s go.”
Five of the Cougars’ top six scorers are guards or wings, led by Alex Barcello (16.6 points) and Te’Jon Lucas, a grad transfer from Milwaukee (10.1 points and 4.7 assists).
BYU (14-3, 2-0 WCC) won three straight at the McCarthey Athletic Center in 2015-17, but the Zags have captured nine of the last 10 with winning margins of 8, 34, 23 and 17 points at home.
“It’s a lot of fun and there’s not many rivalries like it, I’d say, across college basketball,” Timme said.
The Zags (12-2, 1-0) have won 22 straight conference games since the setback in Provo two years ago, and their 60 consecutive home wins is the nation’s longest active streak.
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