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Gonzaga-Kentucky rewind: Drew Timme holds his own against Oscar Tshiebwe in anticipated big man battle

Nov. 21, 2022 Updated Mon., Nov. 21, 2022 at 10:13 p.m.

Gonzaga's Drew Timme, left, chats with Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe (34) while shaking hands after the Kentucky-Gonzaga showdown game at the Spokane Arena Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022.  (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga's Drew Timme, left, chats with Kentucky's Oscar Tshiebwe (34) while shaking hands after the Kentucky-Gonzaga showdown game at the Spokane Arena Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga and Kentucky play five more times over the next five seasons, but John Calipari and the Wildcats may consider themselves fortunate none of those games requires a return to the Spokane Arena, or “the Kennel 2.0,” as one clever student coined it on a sign that was held above a sea of red and navy shirts.

During GU’s 88-72 victory Sunday, a sellout Spokane Arena crowd – the largest in building history – gave the Zags a much-needed charge coming off a 19-point loss to Texas. At times, the decibel level even interfered with Kentucky’s ability to communicate plays on the offensive end of the floor, one notable Wildcat told reporters afterward.

“Today I did not really listen to what they were telling me because it was so loud,” forward Oscar Tshiebwe said. “I told them, ‘let me know, let me know, so I can run up there and run what we’re supposed to run.’ ”

Even with 18 turnovers, Gonzaga managed to execute its cleanest offensive game of the season – considering the level of opponent – and for the third time in four games the Bulldogs received 22 points from Drew Timme, who got the better of Tshiebwe in a battle of national player of the year candidates.

Timme vs. Tshiebwe leads off today’s rewind, but we also examine Rasir Bolton’s impact in the second half and check in with former Zags who were closely monitoring Sunday’s game.

Timme outduels Tshiebwe

When the topic of limiting Tshiebwe surfaced in Sunday’s postgame news conference, Timme deflected much of the credit to Anton Watson, who did an admirable job on the reigning national player of the year, stripping him of the ball on consecutive possessions in the first half.

Timme’s efforts shouldn’t be understated .

While Watson earned praise for his defensive play on Tshiebwe, Timme worked his friend and fellow All-American on the other end of the floor. Tshiebwe stayed out of foul trouble in the first half, but picked up his second foul on a spinning Timme less than three minutes into the second half. About a minute later, Tshiebwe picked up foul No. 3 guarding Timme inside the paint.

“That’s no easy task for anybody, clearly,” Timme said. “He still got what, 20 (points) and 15 (rebounds), but it didn’t feel like it. With players like that, you can’t let them get easy ones but you’ve got to do your best to contain them.”

The best way to contain someone like Tshiebwe, apparently, is to keep him off the floor altogether. Foul trouble limited the Kentucky star to just 13 minutes in the second half. His fourth foul came while guarding Julian Strawther with 12:48 remaining, at a point when the Wildcats had closed the deficit to 49-45.

Timme outscored Tshiebwe and made 69% of his field goals compared to 58% from the Kentucky big man. Tshiebwe outrebounded Timme 15-7 and had just two turnovers to Timme’s four. The Gonzaga forward dished out three assists while Tshiebwe didn’t register any. Timme was on the floor for 36 minutes while Tshiebwe logged 28.

“He’s good, he’s good, he can really attack off the dribble,” Tshiebwe said of Timme. “I don’t know, I feel like I can get him. We have to figure out how I’ve got to stop him. Even when I put my hands up, it seemed like they called fouls too. But I feel like I’ve just got to get better because I’ve been out for awhile.”

Tshiebwe missed Kentucky’s opener while recovering from a preseason knee procedure. He played 34 minutes in a double-overtime loss to Michigan State and was on a minutes restriction in Thursday’s blowout of South Carolina State.

Gonzaga coach Mark Few commended Tshiebwe’s development over the past two years. The Bulldogs squared off with the Congo native in 2020 when he was playing at West Virginia. Tshiebwe demonstrated signs of his potential, scoring 14 points and nine rebounds in a WVU loss.

“He’s gotten a lot better, too, since we last played them,” Few said. “They’ve done a phenomenal job of developing him. He’s in great shape and he’s much more of a load than the first time we played him. A lot better offensive skills, moves and he’s a handful.”

Assertive Bolton

With Nolan Hickman’s status in question leaving Texas last week, Bolton was prepared to fill in at point guard if the sophomore was deemed unfit to play against Kentucky.

Hickman’s ankle injury wasn’t severe enough to keep him out of the starting lineup, but Bolton still logged important point guard minutes. As soon as Hickman committed his fourth foul with 9:57 to play, Bolton took over as GU’s floor general.

Good things tend to happen when the Zags put the ball in Bolton’s hands late in the game, and Sunday was no different. The fifth-year senior scored 19 of his game-high 24 points in the second half and had 15 of those inside the final 11 minutes.

“He was huge. He was huge,” Few said. “We leaned on him to handle the ball more because Nolan was in foul trouble, but we need him to handle the ball more. I think that’s probably when we’re at our best, when everybody’s kind of sharing it.”

Bolton sealed the result with a 3-pointer to make it 81-69 with 2:23 remaining and drained another deep shot just for good measure on Gonzaga’s final possession. He finished 4 of 8 from beyond the arc and was assertive when it came to hunting shots inside the 3-point line. Bolton made four 2-pointers and got to the line for four free throws.

“I think we’re going to need more scoring out of him as we move forward this year,” Few said. “He’s been a little bit reluctant or reticent to be quite as aggressive.”

Former Zags tune in

Domantas Sabonis caught the tail end of Sunday’s GU-UK game from the Golden 1 Center following a 137-129 win for his Sacramento Kings over the Detroit Pistons.

Immediately after a 15-point, 13-rebound double-double, the former Gonzaga standout and two-time NBA All-Star turned his attention to ESPN’s broadcast of Bulldogs-Wildcats from a weight room at Sacramento’s arena. In an Instagram video, Sabonis pointed his phone at the television screen with the Zags leading 81-69 before panning to Kings guard and former Kentucky standout De’Aaron Fox.

Sabonis wrote “Dogs & Cats” in the video and tagged all three Sacramento teammates who played for Calipari in Lexington: Fox, Malik Monk and Trey Lyles The popular “Zombie Nation” tune played before GU home games was blaring in the background of Sabonis’ video.

Kyle Wiltjer, the ex-Kentucky forward who won a national championship with the Wildcats before transferring to Gonzaga, weighed in from China, where he currently plays with the Zhejiang Lions.

“Drew Timme I say this again please let’s play men’s league together,” Wiltjer tweeted. “Yes I’m already recruiting. But sheesh bbq chicken everywhere on the court !!! @ZagMBB”

Former Gonzaga forward Killian Tillie had one of the best seats in the house on Sunday, watching from the baseline with his girlfriend. Tillie, who was recently waived by the Memphis Grizzlies, helped Watson up at one point when the GU senior took a spill in the first half.

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