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Gonzaga Basketball

Dave Boling: Gonzaga’s nation-leading offense ignites, booms in second half against TCU

By Dave Boling For The Spokesman-Review

DENVER – There was a slow-burning fuse on this one. So slow detonation was somewhat in doubt.

TCU and Gonzaga were engaged in a very competitive game. A really good game. TCU was tough, led by a great player Mike Miles, who can get to the hoop with freakish ease, and led the Horned Frogs to a solid first-half lead and a degree of control.

So, you might ask, where was Gonzaga’s nation-leading offense? So varied, so efficient? With so many weapons?

Tick. Tick. Tick.

Drew Timme was operating as he always does, of course, finding creative ways to fight through gauntlets of arms to get scores and draw fouls.

But where was the perimeter game? Where were the guards?

Tick. Tick. Tick.

They were playing hard and well, but, hey, this is the round of 32, and playing half-Zag just ain’t gonna get it done.

At this point, it’s got to be about those explosive spurts, those strings of baskets in transition when opponents reel from the force of them. There were hints, but only flurries. Every surge stymied by a missed opportunity.

Until the moment of detonation. No more ticking, nothing but a very significant boom.

About midway through the second half, TCU’s Miles lifted in a floater to give the Horned Frogs a six-point advantage.

The slumbering backcourt awakened when Rasir Bolton nailed a deep 3 to cut the lead in half. TCU responded with a hoop before GU’s all-time-leading scorer and resident hero, Drew Timme, made perhaps his most impressive play.

For seemingly decades, defenses have been sagging on Timme from all five positions. It’s forced him to become one of the best-passing big men in the game. Which rarely gets mentioned. On this play, when he got the ball near the high post, with a cordone of Horned Frogs closing in around him, he looked as if he would pass the ball out front.

But, no. Instead, he whipped a blind cross-court pass to Bolton for another wide-open 3. It’s likely Zag history will always place Timme’s scoring in bold print. But his passing deserves to be more than a footnote.

Julian Strawther found the range on a 3 after a possession with great ball movement. And the Zags had taken control, with an Anton Watson steal and fastbreak further raising the crowd.

GU coach Mark Few had handicapped this game well, saying either team could beat anyone else in the country when they were at their best.

Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Mark Few gestures to fans as he heads to the locker room after defeating the TCU Horned Frogs during the second half of a second round NCAA Basketball Tournament game on Sunday, March 19, 2023, at Ball Arena in Denver, Colo. Gonzaga won the game 84-81.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs head coach Mark Few gestures to fans as he heads to the locker room after defeating the TCU Horned Frogs during the second half of a second round NCAA Basketball Tournament game on Sunday, March 19, 2023, at Ball Arena in Denver, Colo. Gonzaga won the game 84-81. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review) Buy this photo

And it played out that way, both teams making this a tough contest. At least until the Zags elevated to their full capabilities and held on for the 84-81 victory.

It qualified this win as a very serious achievement. There have been times this season, and even in previous NCAA tournaments, when the Zags might not have won a game like this.

That it seemed in danger for nearly three-fourths of the game had to make the outcome sweeter. They had played well, but just never seemed at quite their best. Maybe not quite good enough to get back to the Sweet 16 like its seven immediate predecessors.

So much was at stake. If they hadn’t awakened, it would have been Timme’s final game.

He finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and a couple wicked assists. It seems he has more on his agenda.

With his teammates’ help in the second half, when the vaunted offense reawakened, Timme earned another game for the Zags, who will meet UCLA Thursday in Las Vegas.

At some point, the Zags are going to need a more complete game out of everybody.

Sunday night, one stunning surge of offensive excellence was enough to rack up another tournament win and head off to a rematch of the 2021 national semifinal duel with the Bruins.