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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Julian Strawther’s hot streak, free throw advice and close games

Feb. 19, 2023 Updated Sun., Feb. 19, 2023 at 5:04 p.m.

Gonzaga wing Julian Strawther (0) drives to the basket against Pepperdine's Jalen Pitre (2) during the first half of the Zags' 97-88 win Saturday in Malibu.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga wing Julian Strawther (0) drives to the basket against Pepperdine's Jalen Pitre (2) during the first half of the Zags' 97-88 win Saturday in Malibu. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

LOS ANGELES – It was quite a three-day stretch for Gonzaga basketball.

The Zags avenged a rare home loss by crushing Loyola Marymount, learned ESPN’s GameDay is coming to Spokane this weekend, made the selection committee’s top 16 seeds and outscored Pepperdine 97-88.

All of which sets up a big week ahead for the Zags, who can clinch at least a share of the West Coast Conference title with home wins over San Diego on Thursday and No. 17 Saint Mary’s on Saturday.

But first, our latest Gonzaga rewind focuses on Julian Strawther’s hot streak, coach Mark Few offering free-throw shooting tips to Drew Timme and Anton Watson and the plus-minus of being in so many nailbiters.

Strawther stirring GU’s offense

The junior wing has been on a roll with the three highest scoring games of his career – 26, 28 and 28 – outside of his 40-point eruption against Portland last month.

His shooting totals over the last three games: 27 of 46 (58.7%) from the field, 13 of 24 on 3-pointers (54.2%) and 15 of 18 at the foul line (83.3%).

He boosted his scoring average by nearly 1.5 points to 15.5. He’s augmented his 3-pointers with aggressive drives into the lane, setting up floaters or finishes at the rim.

Gonzaga sports a 15-0 record in games Strawther scores at least 14 points.

“It’s huge,” Timme said, “and we need it. That’s something he’s really learned as season goes on. His role has really changed from last year and it’s like look, ‘You have to be the guy.’ He’s done a great job, especially lately, being aggressive and hunting his shot.

“He doesn’t realize that the more he hunts his shots it takes off pressure on the rest of us.”

Strawther has developed into a reliable second scoring option to Timme that had been missing at times from the lineup earlier this season. He’s been the first option on multiple occasions in the last seven games.

He’s led Gonzaga in scoring in three of the last seven games. He led GU in scoring once in the first 21 games.

“He’s definitely playing with more confidence and we’re putting him in a lot more actions now because he’s handling them better,” Few said. “He’s also been really efficient. He really hasn’t taken any bad shots. He had a couple heat checks (vs. LMU) and they went in.”

Free-throw advice

Timme mentioned in his latest Gimme Timme podcast that Few recently told him and Anton Watson they’d hit “rock bottom” at the free-throw line.

Few has offered pointers and Timme responded by going 11 of 15 at the stripe against LMU and Pepperdine.

Add in his 5-of-5 second-half effort vs. BYU and Timme has connected on 16 of his last 20 (80%), lifting his season average to 61.6%.

Watson was 11 of 15 from the field but just 2 of 5 at the line on the L.A. road trip.

“We decided to switch some things up, and I got involved for the first time and so we’ll see,” Few said. “He (Timme) likes to make great, sweeping generalizations after one or two free throws or after one game. They looked better (against LMU) I thought, so we’ll see.”

Timme offered a hint about Few’s advice as he walked past the coach’s post-LMU media session and said, “Soft and smooth, coach.”

“There you go,” Few responded. “They looked good.”

Timme, who scored 69 points in two wins over the Waves, continued climbing in the record books. He’s eighth in the WCC in career scoring with 2,117 points. Former LMU guard Anthony Ireland (2,169) is No. 7.

Timme trails Gonzaga’s all-time leading scorer Frank Burgess by 79 points. Timme’s seven rebounds Saturday propelled him past Przemek Karnowski into sixth on GU’s all-time rebounding list. Timme has 822 rebounds. No. 5 Ronny Turiaf finished with 859.

Timme produced 22 of his 34 points in the second half against Pepperdine.

“He was trying to dive in (early) and get fouled,” Few said. “I told him he just has to start making assertive moves and live with them instead of worrying about trying to get fouled.”

Closing kick

Half of Gonzaga’s 28 games have been decided by 10 points or less after Saturday’s nine-point victory.

The Zags are 11-3 in those contests.

By comparison, GU was 3-4 in games decided by 10 points or less last season. The 2021 Zags (31-1) beat West Virginia 87-82 in the only regular-season game in that category. They finished with a 3-0 mark after beating BYU by 10 in the WCC tournament and UCLA by three at the Final Four.

“Obviously when you’re in them, hopefully you’re learning from your mistakes and then also remembering the positive plays and the right plays,” Few said. “We’ve certainly been in a lot of them and for most part we’ve handled them pretty well. There’s a couple we wish we had back. Baylor, Loyola Marymount and even Saint Mary’s were ones we’d like to have a play or two back.

“But we’ve also been very fortunate at the end of some of those, too. That’s kind of how it goes when you play that many close games.”

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