PORTLAND – You know it was an instant classic when both coaches’ opening remarks to the media were virtually the same.
“What a heck of a ball game, man,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
“What a great game, man,” Memphis coach Penny Hardaway said about 10 minutes later.
Can’t imagine too many dissenting opinions from nearly 18,000 fans inside the Moda Center and the millions watching on television, though it was a tad late on the East Coast when the top-ranked Zags wrapped up Saturday’s entertaining 82-78 win.
We’ve seen some of this before. Drew Timme lighting up the scoreboard in the second half for the second straight NCAA Tournament game. Andrew Nembhard and Rasir Bolton, both unassuming by nature but unable to avoid the spotlight after delivering in the clutch again.
More on Timme’s latest second-half masterpiece from the Tigers’ viewpoint, GU’s senior backcourt taking over in another big game and the team’s free throw woes in our latest Gonzaga takeaways.
‘The Drew Timme effect’
Those aren’t our words. Those are Hardaway’s, describing Timme’s impact on the second half.
The 6-foot-10 junior forward scored Gonzaga’s first 11 points, whittling the Tigers’ lead from 12 to three with the half barely four minutes old. He buried a 3-pointer – just the 15th of his career. Timme is known for creative post moves, but it’s hard to recall him draining too many 15-foot fallaway bank shots over a future NBA lottery pick (Jalen Duren).
Those shots were clear signals he was in a groove, and both reached the Memphis sideline.
“We got (the lead) to 12 and then the ‘Drew Timme effect’ came into play,” Hardaway said. “He made some tough shots, controlled the game, got our guys in foul trouble and the rest is history. I feel like he got every offensive rebound or every foul or every bucket for them.
“We witnessed that from the TV a bunch just watching him be so dominant and seeing it in person he made some fantastic shots. I mean, great defense, and he still made them. That’s why he is who he is.”
Of Timme’s 57 points in wins over Georgia State and Memphis, 43 came in the second half on 18-of-25 shooting.
“He’s a great player, a great teammate,” Memphis forward DeAndre Williams said. “The way he plays, very poised. He knows what to do at times when the game is going left, right. We really couldn’t stop him. That’s what makes him him.”
Backcourt 1-2 punch
Nembhard (10) and Bolton (4) scored the Zags’ final 14 points. Bolton scored 11 of his 17 points inside the last 12 minutes, including two straight baskets to even the score after Memphis had taken a 55-51 lead.
That should sound familiar. The duo combined for 17 straight points, turning a two-point lead into a 12-point cushion late in the Zags’ 82-69 win over Saint Mary’s in the West Coast Conference Tournament title game.
“He does so much for us on both sides of the ball, fits in so well with our group,” Nembhard said of Bolton. “Kind of defers a little bit and just helps our team flow in such a way that it helps us win. He’s a winner at the highest level.”
Nembhard logged 40 minutes against the Tigers’ relentless pressure defense. At times, he looked like a fullback hitting the hole, wrapping both arms around the ball on drives to secure it against physical, handsy defenders.
“He was spectacular,” Few said. “I’ve watched multiple films on Memphis and they turn teams over and really demoralize them with their pressure and physicality. We end up with seven turnovers. We played the game at our pace and that’s all him.”
And scored at GU’s pace. The Zags shot nearly 52%. Memphis was 19th nationally in field-goal percentage defense (39.4%). Tulane (85) is the only team to score more points against Memphis this season than Gonzaga’s 82.
Costly free throws
An unexpected issue surfaced in Gonzaga’s two tournament wins. The Zags made just 29 of 54 free throws. They were under 50% until Nembhard and Bolton combined to go 6 of 6 in the final 42 seconds against Memphis.
Gonzaga’s misfires kept the Georgia State game closer than it should have been and made the Zags’ tough task against Memphis even tougher.
They missed the front end of one-and-ones three times Saturday.
The Zags were trending up at the line in their last 14 games, basically the last half of the season, before March Madness. They’d made at least 75% in 12 of those games, including nine above 77%. The two shaky games: 68.8% in a 30-point blowout over San Diego and 61.5% in a 16-point win over Saint Mary’s.
They arrived in Portland at 73% and left at 71.2%. So, a new concern or shake it off as a two-game hiccup? Few didn’t seem overly worried.
“We’ve shot thousands of them, and these guys have all had better nights than they did at the free-throw line,” Few said. “We didn’t shoot ’em very well down here. I guess I would just say thank God we have Andrew.”
“Amen,” Timme added.
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