AUSTIN, Texas – If it seems like Gonzaga hasn’t played a true road nonconference game in a long time, that’s because it’s been awhile.
Only two current Zags – Drew Timme played 13 minutes and Anton Watson 1 – were on the roster when Gonzaga knocked off No. 15 Arizona 84-80 in Tucson on Dec. 14, 2019.
The Zags always schedule a bunch of challenging nonconference contests – this season being a prime example – but most are played at neutral sites or in prestigious holiday tournaments.
Not the next one. No. 2 Gonzaga, in the midst of one of the toughest stretches in program history, visits No. 11 Texas on Wednesday at the new Moody Center, a $375 million on-campus facility hosting just its third regular-season game.
It comes five days after the Zags edged Michigan State 64-63 on the USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego. It was roughly a 50-50 split on spectators’ rooting interests on the aircraft carrier, but Gonzaga won’t see too many friendly faces in the 10,763-seat Moody Center, even with Timme playing roughly 215 miles from his hometown of Dallas.
The Longhorns (2-0) figure to be highly motivated after Timme scored 37 points to spark Gonzaga’s 86-74 home victory last November.
“It’s going into hostile territory, like these (service women and men) can relate to,” Few said from the flight deck after Friday’s win. “Especially after the game last year, they’re in their new arena, it’ll be exciting and a great test for us.
“Then we have Kentucky (on Sunday) and the PK85 after that, so I don’t know who the idiot is that scheduled all these games. Somebody needs to hit him over the head or something.”
Senior forward Watson, who has a collection of bumps and bruises already in just two games, expects more of the same against the Longhorns.
“I think it’s going to be somewhat like this (Michigan State) game, a dogfight and physical,” said Watson, who landed on his chin after a hard fall against the Spartans. “We got to put our hard hats on. We know what’s coming. We beat them last year, so they’re trying to get their get back.”
Both teams have been fine for the most part on attempts inside the arc, but they haven’t been dialed in from distance or at the free-throw line.
The Zags struggled Friday, as many expected with light breezes and unusual shooting backgrounds, making 4 of 18 on 3-pointers and 14 of 22 free throws. Timme carried GU in the second half and finished with 22 points.
“Obviously, it was hard to make a shot and our guys knew that,” Few said. “So he’ll get a lot more help as we move forward in normal shooting circumstances, environments.”
The Longhorns have posted two easy wins, but they’re shooting below 20% on 3s and just 64.6% at the foul line. Only New Mexico State grad transfer Sir’Jabari Rice has made more than one 3-pointer. Throw out his 3-of-6 shooting on 3s and the Longhorns are at 13.3%. They did connect on 10 of 16 3-pointers while routing No. 9 Arkansas 90-60 in an exhibition contest.
Texas more than made up for its perimeter misfires by outscoring UTEP and Houston Christian by a combined 43-1 in fastbreak points and 52-14 in points off turnovers.
“We spend a lot of time on shooting,” Texas coach Chris Beard said. “We have a process we believe in. I predict there’ll be a day very soon – and didn’t we shoot the fire out of it versus Arkansas? – the 3-point shot will be our weapon.”
Texas relies on offensive balance with proven scorers in guards Rice, Marcus Carr and Tyrese Hunter, wing Timmy Allen and forward Dylan Disu. All five transferred to Texas. Freshman forward Dillon Mitchell, a projected NBA lottery pick, is a strong finisher in transition and in the half-court offense.
Still, defenses will likely settle the outcome. How will Texas deal with Timme? How will Gonzaga handle the Longhorns’ balance?
“If you’re going to compete for championships, you have to be able to win on nights where some things aren’t working,” Beard said. “On a night when you can’t get a rebound, you better get some steals. On a night when you can’t make a shot, you better get to the free-throw line.
“And then defense is the standard. It’s the thing that never goes away. All championship teams have a defense.”
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