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‘Huge challenge’ awaits No. 6 Gonzaga in Phil Knight Legacy semifinal against Zach Edey, No. 24 Purdue

Nov. 25, 2022 Updated Fri., Nov. 25, 2022 at 3:08 p.m.

PORTLAND – Gonzaga’s road to the Phil Knight Invitational title will go through the Big Ten Conference and its most immovable force.

Purdue’s 80-68 victory over West Virginia at Veterans Memorial Coliseum locked the Boilermakers into a semifinal showdown in Portland and Gonzaga handled its own business in Thursday’s nightcap, cruising past Portland State 102-78 to set up an intriguing Top 25 matchup at the Moda Center. 

The sixth-ranked Bulldogs (4-1) will take on the 24th-ranked Boilermakers (4-0) at 8:30 p.m. on ESPN. The team that prevails will take on the winner of an early-evening game between Xavier and Duke in Saturday’s championship game.

The Gonzaga-Purdue matchup comes with another compelling big-man battle: Bulldogs All-American Drew Timme versus 7-foot-4, 290-pound Boilermakers center Zach Edey, the tallest player in Big Ten history.

Timme is a score-first post who’s known for his ability to put the ball on the floor and score inside with a variety of crafty post moves. The towering Edey is more of a shot-blocking presence than his Gonzaga counterpart and averages 13.7 rebounds, but has also demonstrated soft hands down low.

In Purdue’s win on Thursday, the Canadian-born center scored 24 points, grabbed 12 rebounds and committed six turnovers in what Boilermakers coach Matt Painter called “an average game.” Edey was automatic from the free throw line on Thursday, making 10 of 10.

“You get 24 and 12 and you have an average game, that’s pretty cool,” Painter said. “… Defensively he’s better. You can see from a rebounding standpoint, he’s a very good rebounder. There’s two or three more he could’ve had. But he’s a weapon.”

Fortunately, the Zags aren’t short on ammunition either.

Edey is acutely aware of the challenge Timme presents on any given night, against virtually any big man in the country. Before Thursday’s game against the Vikings, Timme’s last outing in Portland was a 25-point, 14-rebound effort against Memphis in the NCAA Tournament. Timme was guarded by Tigers center and future NBA lottery pick Jalen Duren much of that game.

“He’s really good. I think he’s got that underrated quickness almost,” Edey said of Timme. “He’s really shifty in the post, a lot of shimmies, a lot of up fakes, a lot of deception. He’s not that tall but he’s really a great player so just kind of focusing on that and focusing on trying to limit him as much as possible.”

Edey’s fairly familiar with Gonzaga’s team, watching them year after year in the NCAA Tournament. Through his time with Canada’s national team program, Edey, a Toronto a native, has gotten to know former Zags and fellow Canadians such as Kelly Olynyk, Andrew Nembhard and Kevin Pangos.

“Everyone’s seen them in March Madness. Julian Strawther, Drew Timme. I’ve watched a lot of games. They are really good, but I feel really comfortable with our group and I feel like we have a good squad too.”

Gonzaga’s less than a week removed from facing Kentucky and reigning national player of the year Oscar Tshiebwe. The All-American scored 20 points and hauled down 15 rebounds, but spent much of the second half in foul trouble. Edey’s size and ability to alter shots makes him a unique challenge – possibly one the Bulldogs haven’t encountered since Timme and frontcourt partner Anton Watson arrived on campus in 2019-20.

“We saw Oscar and he’s different, but he was a load too,” Few said. “He’s different. It’ll be a huge challenge there. They’ve done a good job really developing him, he’s got a nice touch and he’s just so big. Like I said, short prep, we’ll be able to walk through some stuff and show them some film and hopefully come out and play well tomorrow.”

Bulldogs guard Rasir Bolton is vaguely familiar with the Boilermakers from his time in the Big Ten, playing them twice during the 2018-19 season. Bolton scored 35 combined points in two losses to a Purdue team that had high-scoring guard and former second-round draft pick Carsen Edwards.

“I think it was a little different when I played,” Bolton said. “They had Carsen Edwards so they kind of let him go a little bit. I know they have shooters, they like to play inside a bit. They always have a huge big kind of down there dominating the paint, so like coach said execution style, Big Ten, very physical slow-paced kind of game. That’s what I remember from them.”

Gonzaga and Purdue have played only two other times, meeting in Albuquerque during the 2000 NCAA Tournament. The Boilermakers are 2-0 all-time against the Bulldogs, also winning a 1999 game in West Lafayette, Indiana.

Today’s game will be GU’s fourth against a team currently ranked in the Associated Press Top 25.

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