Anything but boring: Biggest plays, performances highlight Gonzaga’s memorable season
March 9, 2023 Updated Thu., March 9, 2023 at 8:07 p.m.
Gonzaga has played 33 games, which pencils out to 1,325 minutes on the basketball court.
It’s been anything but boring as the ninth-ranked Zags (28-5) prepare for another March Madness journey. They cruised to some wins, dug out numerous narrow victories and came up short five times, including a pair of one-point setbacks.
More memorable plays will unfold in the NCAA Tournament, but here’s a look at some of the biggest plays and performances from one of Gonzaga’s most interesting seasons in years.
Timme carries GU on aircraft carrier
Drew Timme brought Gonzaga back from a seven-point halftime deficit by scoring 14 of his 22 points in the second half in a 64-63 victory over Michigan State aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln.
Timme scored eight straight GU points to cut MSU’s lead to 57-56. He then scored the Zags’ final three points, including a free throw with 1:51 left that accounted for the game’s last point.
“I thought we were good enough,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said. “We were leading this game for, what, 30-something minutes and they were leading for six, it was tied for four. We did everything we needed to do to win the game and yet an All-American won the game for them. Give them credit.”
It was an unforgettable setting for a basketball game on the flight deck of an aircraft carrier, helping create an indelible postgame image: A smiling Timme holding a cellphone and taking numerous pictures with dozens of sailors.
San Francisco treat
Senior guard Rasir Bolton delivered 11 of his 21 points in the last 5 minutes and 15 seconds, including a winning putback with 8 seconds remaining in the Zags’ 77-75 comeback victory over San Francisco.
GU trailed by five with 2:45 left when Bolton hit a big 3-pointer. He retrieved Timme’s miss and connected for the winner, much to the chagrin of a Dons fan who could be seen yelling in his ear while Bolton and Timme celebrated a few feet away.
“I knew we were going to Drew,” Bolton said. “I saw when he spun off that he was going to get his shot up, so I was trying to be there just in case it came off, and the ball bounced my way and I tipped it in.
“I think it was just a lucky play, but it all worked out.”
Two nights after rallying past USF, the Zags did the same against Santa Clara with Nolan Hickman in the starring role.
Gonzaga trailed by 14 in the first half and was down by one with 1:45 remaining. The Zags diagrammed a play during a timeout, but it didn’t work out as planned. Hickman improvised, using a crossover dribble and step-back move to hit a 3-pointer that fueled GU’s 81-76 road win.
“I saw the play was breaking down and the shot clock was running down, so I took it into my hands,” said Hickman, who scored a career-high 20 points.
Strawther 3, Watson D sink BYU
Gonzaga’s third comeback road victory in a week produced two memorable plays that decided the Zags’ improbable 75-74 victory over BYU in Provo, Utah.
Julian Strawther didn’t have his best shooting night, but he hit a big 3-pointer inside the 5-minute mark that initiated GU’s rally. His biggest shot came with 9.8 seconds left as he dribbled downcourt, pulled up from 26 feet and connected on a 3 to put Gonzaga ahead 75-74.
“The defender just kept going under, kept backing up further and further so I was like, ‘Well, I work on this shot every day. This is all I work on, so I might as well pull it,’” Strawther said.
The Cougars still had a chance, but GU senior forward Anton Watson put up a defensive roadblock on the final possession. He switched onto BYU guard Spencer Johnson out front and poked the ball away while Johnson was dribbling.
Johnson gathered the ball but couldn’t shake Watson, who got a piece of Johnson’s shot as the final buzzer sounded.
“I just feel like that’s what I do, is get stops,” Watson said. “He started dribbling and I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s where you messed up.’ So yeah, I had to get to that stop, and I knew that was going to be for game.”
Strawther torches Pilots for 40 points
Strawther put on a show in Gonzaga’s road win over Portland with a career-high 40 points.
As for highlight plays, take your pick between any of his eight 3-pointers or a gorgeous floater over 6-foot-8 Moses Wood or a putback that gave him the Zags’ first 40-point game since Kyle Wiltjer’s 45 against Pacific in 2015.
Players on Gonzaga’s bench let Strawther know that he was closing in on 40 and they went crazy when he made the field goal with 1:30 remaining to reach the milestone.
“He kicked our butt,” Portland coach Shantay Legans said.
Strawther was 14 of 21 from the field.
“It was a very, very efficient 40,” coach Mark Few said.
In the WCC regular-season finale, Malachi Smith was big off the bench as the Zags earned a share of the title with a 77-68 victory over Saint Mary’s.
The Gaels had trimmed a 19-point deficit to six when Smith swished a 3-pointer to push GU’s lead to 57-48.
Smith also contributed a key defensive play a few minutes later, swatting Aidan Mahaney’s shot attempt. Smith finished with 13 points.
“I just think having that mentality to just want to get revenge for that (Feb. 4) loss I feel like we let slip away. I always try to come with the mentality of being aggressive,” Smith said. “This one felt kind of personal. I just wanted to get it.”
Timme reaches pinnacle
Timme climbed to the top alone on Gonzaga’s all-time scoring list with a jump hook with 10:17 left in the first half of Saturday’s 77-51 blowout over Saint Mary’s in the WCC Tournament title game.
Timme went on to finish with 18 points to bump his career total to 2,210 points.
“What an amazing career and run,” Few said. “Hopefully, we’ll keep it going. He’s a one-of-a-kind player.”
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