Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Andrew Nembhard (3) erupts in a a cheer as time expires and Gonzaga defeats the Memphis Tigers during the second half of the second round of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament on Saturday Mar 19, 2022, at the Moda Center in Portland, Ore. Gonzaga won the game 82-78. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
PORTLAND – Turns out Drew Timme’s stellar second half against Georgia State on Thursday was just his warm-up act.
The junior forward topped that Saturday with a closing half against No. 9 Memphis that, beyond the stats, was essentially a statement that he wasn’t going to allow Gonzaga’s season to end.
Timme scored 21 of his 25 points in the closing half and guards Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton took over in the final 5 minutes as the top-ranked Zags closed out a pulsating 82-78 victory over the ninth-seeded Tigers at the Moda Center.
Gonzaga (28-3) advanced to the Sweet 16 for the seventh straight NCAA Tournament. The Zags will face No. 4 Arkansas, a 53-48 winner over No. 12 New Mexico State, on Thursday at the Chase Center in San Francisco.
Timme left the court smiling and clapping in front of thousands of appreciative Zags fans. He wasn’t as pleased at halftime with the Zags trailing 41-31, and neither was head coach Mark Few, who told his team they were “playing soft.”
“As long as you put your all into something and you go down swinging and you put your full heart into something, you can live with the results and that’s what I told them,” Timme said. “I said basically, ‘I love this group, we don’t deserve this but, you know, we’ve worked hard to get here. Let’s not end this now and let’s go out guns blazing.’ ”
Timme started his scoring spree early with a spin move and finish, then yelling at the top of his lungs running back downcourt to let everyone in the building know the final 20 minutes was going to be a lot different than his four points on 1-of-3 shooting in the opening half.
Timme followed with a 3-pointer and a tough, fadeaway bank shot over Memphis standout center Jalen Duren. Timme scored nine points in the first 3:20 of the half, cutting into Memphis’ lead and getting the crowd of nearly 18,000 fully involved.
Gonzaga went in front 58-57 on Timme’s basket in the lane and a Bolton 3-pointer. Timme’s jump hook with 6:15 remaining gave GU a 66-64 lead, and his lob pass – one of his three second-half assists – on a Holmgren dunk gave the Zags the lead for good, 68-66.
Then Nembhard and Bolton took over. Nembhard hit two huge 3-pointers and Bolton raced to the rim for a layup.
After major struggles at the foul line against Georgia State and the first 39 minutes against Memphis, the Zags hit their free throws when it counted the most. It helped that their top two free-throw shooters, Nembhard (87%) and Bolton (80%), were standing at the strip.
Bolton hit a pair with 41.7 seconds left to bump Gonzaga’s lead to 78-73. Nembhard made four straight, the last two with 4.1 ticks remaining to seal the victory in what felt more like an Elite Eight or Final Four contest.
“I just want to step up for my team in those types of moments,” said Nembhard, who played all 40 minutes and finished with 23 points, five 3-pointers and five assists.
Bolton finished with 17 points, three 3s and two assists.
“I think he’s so enjoyed being a part of this culture and around these guys and around the staff,” Few said of Bolton. “He won two games last year (at Iowa State). That’s why he came here. He wanted to win. He wanted to win championships and he wanted to play in games like this on big stages, and he’s been awesome.”
Few’s halftime speech also emphasized the need to get the ball to Timme, and for the big man to be more assertive posting up than he had been in the first half. The All-American responded by making 9 of 13 shots.
He also finished with a career-high 14 rebounds, an important contribution because Memphis dominated the boards in the first 20 minutes.
“I would like to stop doing that,” Timme said. “I would like to do a better job in the first half because that’s not a recipe to go far and win a lot of games.”
The first half was a rerun of the Tigers’ first 20 minutes against Boise State (38-19 lead) on Thursday. This time, the Tigers’ athleticism and deep bench hurt Gonzaga at both ends of the floor.
Malcolm Dandridge, stepping in with Duren in foul trouble, scored on a dunk and Earl Timberlake’s free throw gave Memphis a 24-23 lead. Memphis dominated the glass throughout the opening half with eight offensive boards leading to an 8-1 advance in second-chance points.
Bench players scored 18 of the last 20 points as Memphis led by 10 at halftime.
Gonzaga turned it around quickly, led by Timme, Nembhard and Bolton.
“What a heck of a ball game, man,” Few said. “Both teams just competing their tails off and it’s probably as physical of a game as we have been in all year.
“I just love the fight in these guys (Nembhard and Timme) and the rest of them in the locker room because we had to dig very, very deep. The way we came out fighting in the second half I thought was more who we are. Then we just did a great job down the stretch, executing all our late-game stuff to get it done.”
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