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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga rewind: A closer look at Julian Strawther’s 40-point eruption against Portland

Jan. 29, 2023 Updated Sun., Jan. 29, 2023 at 8:29 p.m.

PORTLAND – As Portland coach Shantay Legans’ post-game media session was winding down Saturday, a reporter from the school’s student newspaper asked if anyone, presumably with a Pilots player in mind, had stood out against Gonzaga.

“The Strawther kid on the other team, yeah,” Legans said. “He kicked our butt.”

Yeah, he did. Junior wing Julian Strawther stung the Pilots with eight 3-pointers and 40 points, bettering his career high by a whopping 17 points and carrying No. 14 Gonzaga to an 82-67 win at the Chiles Center.

How Strawther did it was as impressive as his point total. We take a second look at Strawther’s memorable performance and Drew Timme’s contributions outside of the scoring column.

Strawther joins 40-point club

The 6-foot-7 wing put on a show against the Pilots entirely within the structure of GU’s offense. There were no forced shots – well, possibly one, but who’s counting – and he demonstrated his ability to score at all three levels.

“As I told the guys in (the locker room), it’s not often when you can post a 40,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “That’s a special, special night, but the best thing about it was he didn’t force any shots. He took the right shots and the guys made the right plays to get him the right shots.

“It was a very, very efficient 40.”

Strawther connected on 8 of 12 from deep. When the Pilots ran him off the 3-point line, Strawther penetrated and scored on floaters or pull-ups jumpers. He hit a putback with 90 seconds left to reach 40 points.

His prettiest basket was probably a rainbow high off the glass over 6-8 Moses Wood to punctuate a drive from the wing.

“The guys kept finding me, that was the main thing,” Strawther said. “It wasn’t like I was coming down every play with the ball in my hands.

“There was one (shot) in the corner in the second half off an OB (out of bounds) under that me and coach Few made eye contact afterward, like ‘I didn’t have to shoot that one.’ But I told him I already made 6 or 7 or them, ‘I’m going to keep firing.’ “

Many of Strawther’s buckets were timely, including a second-chance 3-pointer that gave the Zags a 59-54 advantage with 8:30 remaining. GU led for nearly 37 minutes, but it was usually a single-digit margin until the last five minutes.

Strawther’s scoring average climbed from 13.5 before tipoff to 14.7 and his 3-point accuracy improved from 40.8% to 43.5%.

Strawther joined select company by posting the program’s 21st game with at least 40 points. Seven of those were authored by Gonzaga’s all-time leading scorer Frank Burgess, including the school-record of 52 points long before the 3-point era.

Adam Morrison, who was courtside as an analyst on Gonzaga radio broadcasts, had five games in the 40s with a high of 44. Jim McPhee, No. 2 on the program’s scoring list, had a pair of 42-point performances.

Jean Claude Lefebvre (50), Kyle Wiltjer (45), Jerry Vermillion (44), Gary Lechman (41), Ronny Turiaf (40) and Doug Spradley (40) also are members of the 40-point club.

Few also applauded Strawther’s defensive work.

“He played a lot better defensively than he’s been playing, so I was really proud of him,” Few said. “I told him that, too.”

Strawther finished with three steals.

Timme draws a crowd

Strawther and forward Anton Watson, who scored 17 points, readily acknowledged that a fair amount their production was a byproduct of Drew Timme drawing multiple defenders.

“He (Timme) finds the open guy,” Watson said, “whether it’s me under the hoop or someone out on the 3-point line.”

Timme scored a season-low eight points on just seven field-goal attempts – his season low was six vs. Baylor. He handed out five assists and the attention he received from the Pilots created quality looks elsewhere in the half-court offense. Timme, like Strawther, largely refrained from forcing shots.

“Drew was commanding a whole bunch of bodies and heads and eyes, so I was just there to relieve him,” Strawther said. “That’s probably like the 50th game he’s went against double and triple teams.

“He’s super used to it now. He’s such a great player and passer at that. He knows what play is right, when to go get his and when to kick out to shooters.”

Timme’s presence was particularly noticeable as Gonzaga pulled away in the final 8 minutes. He didn’t get an assist but he was surrounded by defenders in the lane, leaving the Pilots unable to close-out on Malachi Smith’s 3-pointer that gave GU a 62-54 lead.

On the next play, Timme dished to Smith on a back-door cut for a three-point play. Timme later fired a cross-court pass to Strawther for a 3-pointer that put Gonzaga on top 69-59.

“I thought the shots (Timme) got were difficult and hard,” Legans said. “We didn’t do that with Strawther, and that’s what makes that team good … Timme, for all his scoring, he did find (Strawther) a couple times cross court on those passes when we were inside, sinking in, and hoping he would shoot it and we’d try to come block it.”

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