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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga rewind: Bulldogs continue to tighten defense, Drew Timme inches toward scoring record

March 2, 2023 Updated Thu., March 2, 2023 at 7:28 p.m.

Gonzaga guard Hunter Sallis leaps to defend Chicago State guard Bryce Johnson during Wednesday’s game at McCarthey Athletic Center.  (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga guard Hunter Sallis leaps to defend Chicago State guard Bryce Johnson during Wednesday’s game at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Tyler Tjomsland / The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Drew Timme and Rasir Bolton played in front of a McCarthey Athletic Center crowd for the final time on Wednesday, but given Gonzaga’s postseason pedigree over the past two decades, Senior Night in Spokane doesn’t necessarily come with the sense of finality it does for others around the country.

Timme and Bolton kept their messages short and concise when given a chance to speak to the home crowd following Gonzaga’s 104-65 Senior Night win over Chicago State.

“We’ve got a whole lot of basketball left, man, so stay with us,” Timme said.

“I appreciate the love, the same love as last year,” Bolton said. “We’re going to keep this thing going and we’re going to keep winning in March.”

The Zags officially have one win in March and they’ll look to add to the tally Monday in a semifinal game at the West Coast Conference Tournament at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas.

In our last regular-season rewind, we recap another strong defensive effort from Gonzaga in Wednesday’s game, look at Timme’s pursuit of the school scoring record and explain why the Bulldogs planted a rare nonconference game between the WCC regular-season finale and conference tournament.

Trending the right way

After giving up 99 points to Tennessee in a preseason exhibition, it was evident Gonzaga’s defensive issues wouldn’t be an overnight fix.

Making small improvements over the course of a season, with marginal signs of growth each time the Zags stepped onto the floor, seemed like a more tangible goal.

Five of the past six Gonzaga teams have ranked top 20 nationally in adjusted defense, a metric used by analytics guru Ken Pomeroy.

Barring a drastic change of events, the 2022-23 Bulldogs will likely finish outside the top 50 for the first time since 2010. They rank No. 90 in the country.

Still, Gonzaga’s defense has shown gradual improvement and could be peaking at the right time as the Bulldogs prepare for upcoming WCC and NCAA tournaments.

The Bulldogs held their past three opponents under 75 points – something they’ve done only one other time this season, during a four-game December stretch against Baylor, Kent State, Washington and Northern Illinois.

“Chicago State, they play hard, they’ve got some nice, athletic guys who take you off the bounce and they shot the 3 well in the first half,” GU head coach Mark Few said.

At points this season, Gonzaga, boasting the nation’s top adjusted offense, has relied on going basket for basket with its opponents.

Over the recent three-game stretch, however, the Bulldogs have chosen to set the tone with defense, stringing together anywhere from five to 10 consecutive stops at points against San Diego, Saint Mary’s and Chicago State.

The Bulldogs held San Diego without a field goal for 6 minutes, 14 seconds in the first half on Feb. 23, before pulling off another impressive stand in which San Diego didn’t score for 4 minutes, 59 seconds.

In the Saint Mary’s game, the Gaels had four long stretches without a field goal. Three of those lasted longer than 3 minutes and the other, near the end of the first half, lasted 5:41.

On Wednesday, Chicago State went more than 5 minutes without a field goal on two occasions in the first half.

The chase continues

Timme entered his senior season with a realistic shot of breaking Gonzaga’s career scoring record, needing 675 points to catch Frank Burgess.

A chase that started in Spokane against North Florida could end next week in Vegas at the WCC Tournament.

Timme’s done most of the work and needs 22 more points to surpass Burgess and claim one of the school’s longest-standing records.

If the senior forward merely matches his scoring average of 21.1 points per game, he’ll have a chance to become the record-holder on Monday night in Gonzaga’s WCC Tournament semifinal .

As Timme’s moved up the all-time scoring list, past names like Elias Harris, Adam Morrison and Jim McPhee, the Texas native has suggested he hasn’t given much thought to the scoring record, repeatedly maintaining he’s only focused on team goals.

“The only thoughts I got on that is that dude’s a walking bucket,” Timme said of Burgess after scoring 17 points in Wednesday’s game. “I’ve been here a while and I’ve had a bunch of big games and I still feel like I’m so far away from him. It’s hard to process.

“Who knows if I’ll get it. I don’t, no one does, so I’ve just got to keep playing and do what it takes to win. That’s all that matters.”

Late addition

In hindsight, Gonzaga’s midweek game against Chicago State might have given the Bulldogs a helpful tuneup as they prepare for the postseason, but that wasn’t the purpose of scheduling the Cougars five days prior to the WCC Tournament.

“It didn’t have anything to do with that,” Few said. “It’s just, we had the PK85, we had the aircraft carrier game, so that really shrunk our date availability down to really one or two specific dates where we had to find a game. We were a game short and we tried and tried all the way into September.”

Chicago State, playing as a Division I independent and not tied to a conference schedule, may have been one of only a few teams that could have accommodated Gonzaga’s needs.

The Cougars have played all but seven of their 30 games on the road, traveling to games in Illinois, Minnesota, Ohio, West Virginia, Wisconsin, Florida, Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, Texas, South Carolina, California, Connecticut, Delaware and Washington.

“We’ve done this in the past and as long as you finish in the top two of the league, it turns out pretty good,” Few said. “So we took our chances there and it turned out great.”

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