PORTLAND – Gonzaga faced three halftime deficits during the regular season. A perceptive fan should remember how those three games turned out for the Bulldogs. For those who don’t, a quick refresher:
• On Nov. 26, Gonzaga went into the locker room at T-Mobile Arena facing a 45-42 deficit against Duke. The Bulldogs lost 84-81.
• On Dec. 4, Gonzaga struggled to contain hot-shooting Alabama, entering halftime with a 51-35 deficit before losing 91-82.
• On Feb. 26, in a regular-season finale against Saint Mary’s, the Gaels opened a sizable 36-21 lead on the top-ranked Zags, who didn’t get much closer in the second half of a 67-57 loss.
Three halftime deficits, zero wins.
So there the top-seeded Zags were Saturday, staring down a 41-31 deficit against eighth-seeded Memphis in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, retreating into the locker room behind a pro-GU crowd of 17,907 that had understandably gone silent.
“Silent” may not have been an appropriate adjective for Gonzaga’s halftime locker room, where speeches from coach Mark Few and Drew Timme incited one of the most impressive halves of the season – considering the opponent and the stage – and helped the Bulldogs claw back to win 82-78 at the Moda Center.
Not willing to share the unfiltered version of what he told Gonzaga teammates in the locker room, then reiterated inside a players-only huddle moments before the second half opened, Timme gave reporters a edited transcript of what was said.
“I guess what I said was no matter what happens, no matter what the score is, win or lose, this could very well be the last 20 minutes of basketball you ever play and go out with no regrets,” Timme said. “As long as you put your all into something and you go down swinging and you put your full heart into something, at the end of the day you can live with the results and that’s what I told them.
“I said basically I love this group, we don’t deserve this, we’ve worked so hard to get here. Let’s not end this now and let’s go out guns blazing. A little hard to get the G-rated version, so sorry.”
In a postgame television interview, Timme had also shared with TBS he advised teammates, “Don’t be soft.”
“Something like that, yeah,” Timme later said.
The first-half Zags went into the locker room and never returned, because the second-half version played with more force and aggression, executed better from the free-throw line and overwhelmed physically gifted Memphis, which saw both of its starting big men accrue four fouls early in the half.
Gonzaga outscored Memphis 51-37 in the second half by making 19 of 31 shots from the field after converting just 11 of 27 in the first half. The Bulldogs improved from the 3-point line, connecting on 4 of 11 after going 5 of 16, and settled in at the free-throw line, where GU was 4 of 9 in the first half and 9 of 15 in the second.
Starting guards Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton combined to go 6 for 6 from the free-throw stripe inside the final minute.
“That’s who they are,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said. “They went to the finals last year and they understood from playing a Baylor team, maybe Baylor showed them how it was done. But for that stretch, that’s all they needed. They’re going to control the ball, go to their horses and their horses came to play.”
Timme opened the second half with a key three-play sequence, making a layup, 3-pointer and jump shot to cut a 10-point deficit to five (43-38). Memphis withstood the initial Gonzaga barrage but couldn’t stomach the second one, which came at the 5:48 mark when Chet Holmgren flushed an alley oop from Timme and Nembhard hit a 3-pointer from the top of the arc.
Sandwiched between two Memphis baskets, Rasir Bolton’s driving layup and another Nembhard 3 gave the Bulldogs their largest lead at 76-69.
“You have to have your guys dominate on both ends of the floor, especially in winning time and that’s what they did in that little stretch,” Hardaway said. “I could feel it in that little stretch they got their confidence back and we couldn’t get the ball in the basket.”
Few recounted his own halftime speech, which consisted of many of the same talking points – and maybe choice words – voiced by Timme.
“I don’t think I was screaming and yelling, but I was somewhat mildly agitated that we just – we were playing soft,” Few said, “so that wasn’t an original thought by Drew.”
“It was reiterated, for sure,” Timme said.
“But again, just imploring them that we’re fine, we’re fine. The way we started the game, we needed to get back to playing that way,” Few said. “But it was mostly on offense. Our offense, they’d got up into us and kind of just were running around on the 3-point line and we weren’t doing things with good thrust to the basket.”
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