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Gonzaga Basketball

Drew Timme producing points and assists at all-time level in Gonzaga’s program

It’s easy to get caught up in Drew Timme’s vast collection of spin moves, jump hooks and soft-touch finishes around the rim.

The senior forward is just 22 points from becoming Gonzaga’s all-time leading scorer and breaking the record set 62 years ago by Frank Burgess.

His impact on Gonzaga’s top-ranked scoring offense (88.0 points per game) doesn’t stop there. Timme has gone where no big has gone before in the program in the past four-plus decades – with his passing.

Timme averages 3.2 assists per game, the most by a big since the Zags joined what was called the West Coast Athletic Conference in 1979. Assist numbers are tougher to pin down prior to 1979, but Timme is on track to one-up himself after averaging 2.8 assists last season.

“I’ve always been kind of pass first,” Timme said after a recent road win. “I remember, especially last year and my sophomore year, coach (Mark Few) was like, ‘You gotta score more.’ I think it’s just kind of my nature to be pass-first, but it’s great when you have guys that can knock down open shots. It’s way more fun to play open than closed I would say.”

Gonzaga has a long list of versatile bigs in Few’s 24 seasons as head coach, including deft passers Anton Watson, Chet Holmgren, Killian Tillie, Przemek Karnowski, Domantas Sabonis and Kelly Olynyk in the past decade alone.

Watson, at 2.3 assists per game this season, is the only big to reach the 2.0 mark since the Zags became NCAA Tournament regulars in 1999. Holmgren (2022), Watson (2022), Tillie (2020), Brandon Clarke (2019), Karnowski (2017) and Kyle Wiltjer (2015) checked in at 1.9 assists per game.

Sabonis averaged 1.8 assists in 2016. Tillie (2018), Olynyk (2013) and Casey Calvary (2001) averaged 1.7. Elias Harris averaged 1.6 in 2013. Ronny Turiaf (2004, 2005), Cory Violette (2004) and Axel Dench (2000) finished at 1.5.

Scott Snider averaged 2.1 assists in 1996 and Eric Brady 2.2 in 1992.

“Not Przemek or any of those guys?” wondered Few, when hearing Timme’s assists per game are well above any other big in Few’s 34 seasons at Gonzaga, including 10 as an assistant. “He’s a great passer. It’s a function (of) he’s so good that he gets double teams and the double teams don’t bother him because he’s very comfortable.

“He’s always had the ball in his hands and faced up a lot all through high school. We let him face up, and he’s got teammates that can make shots, too.”

Portland guards Tyler Robertson and Jack Perry surround Gonzaga’s Drew Timme during the first half of a West Coast Conference game Jan. 14 at McCarthey Athletic Center.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Portland guards Tyler Robertson and Jack Perry surround Gonzaga’s Drew Timme during the first half of a West Coast Conference game Jan. 14 at McCarthey Athletic Center. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

Timme, who averaged 2.3 assists as a sophomore, is two assists behind point guard Nolan Hickman’s team-leading 100. The last big to lead Gonzaga in assists was 6-foot-8, 205-pound Jim Grady, who topped the 1977 Zags in scoring (14), rebounds (10) and assists (4.0).

Timme leads the Zags in scoring (21.1) and rebounding (7.4). His career assist totals – with as few as two games and as many as eight remaining – are closing in on the school’s all-time top 10. Steven Gray is 10th at 339. Timme has 304.

In’s “assist percentage,” an estimate of the percentage of teammate baskets a player assisted on during his time on the court, Timme remains at the top while logging team-high minutes (31.6). Timme’s assist percentage is 18.0, close to one of every five buckets. Hickman is next at 16.1%. Timme is 10th in WCC assist percentage and the only big in the top 20.

Karnowski was at 16.9% in 2017, Clarke 12.3% and Tillie 13.5% in 2019, Sabonis 11.3% in 2016, Wiltjer 14.1% in 2015 and Olynyk 15.1% in 2013.

Indiana center Trayce Jackson-Davis is averaging 3.8 assists with a 23.8 assist percentage. Purdue’s Zach Edey, the national player of the year favorite, averages 1.5 assists and 13.0%. Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe, last year’s player of the year, averages 1.6 assists and 9.6%.

The Zags, who open the WCC Tournament on Monday in the semifinals, have leaned heavily on the 6-10 Timme, particularly earlier this season when he averaged 27.3 points in a seven-game stretch in December. They obviously still lean on Timme, but not quite as much during the second half of the conference season with multiple consistent scoring options, led by Julian Strawther and Watson, balancing the stat sheet.

“Hell yeah, I love it,” said Timme, the team’s leading scorer as a sophomore, junior and senior. “That’s what we need to be successful. I mean, as much as I’d love to score 40 every game, that’s just not something that’s really possible. The way more and more people are stepping up, it makes the game way more fun and way more easy to play.”

Gonzaga in recent weeks has used small-ball lineups with one post and four guards, usually with Strawther at the ‘4’, against Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine and Saint Mary’s.

In the biggest WCC game of the season on Feb. 25, Timme exited with four fouls with 6:57 left and returned with 28 seconds remaining as the Zags held off Saint Mary’s 77-68 to earn a share of the regular-season title.

“We’ve used that (small-ball) lineup now down the stretch here in the second half of league, and I think we even used it against Baylor way back,” Few said. “They’re getting more and more comfortable opening up the floor, and we were able to extend the lead actually when they were out there. Especially when we can play Anton at the ‘5’, it makes us pretty versatile on defense.”

One of the first breakthroughs was in Gonzaga’s 100-90 win over Alabama in Birmingham in mid-December. Timme scored 29 points, and Alabama’s Brandon Miller had 36 in an entertaining shootout between star players.

The Zags, who had just three players averaging double figures at the time, put all five starters in double digits and Malachi Smith added 12 off the bench. Alabama finished with two in double figures.

The Zags have four players averaging double figures and Smith is at 9.3 points in the past eight games.

“It’s awesome, and all these guys are capable of doing it,” Timme said. “It’s just getting that confidence to do it, and I think what we’re seeing right now is guys getting more and more comfortable taking more shots and making more plays. It’s what we need.”