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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga again shows second-half resiliency, rallies past TCU 84-81

March 19, 2023 Updated Sun., March 19, 2023 at 11:11 p.m.

Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Julian Strawther (0) celebrates late during the second half of a second round NCAA Basketball Tournament game against the TCU Horned Frogs on Sunday, March 19, 2023, at Ball Arena in Denver, Colo. Gonzaga won the game 84-81.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs guard Julian Strawther (0) celebrates late during the second half of a second round NCAA Basketball Tournament game against the TCU Horned Frogs 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

DENVER – Michigan State, Xavier, Kent State, San Francisco, Santa Clara, BYU twice.

Add TCU to the list.

Gonzaga trailed in the second half of those games, often in the closing minutes or even seconds, before finding a way to get to the finish line first. The Zags rallied to take the lead against Baylor in December, but came up one basket or one stop short of finishing the job.

The third-seeded Zags fell into a 10-point first-half hole, trailed by five at the break and were still down five with 12 minutes remaining, but they kept their composure, put up 51 second-half points and moved into the Sweet 16 with an 84-81 victory Sunday over Horned Frogs.

“First of all, these guys sitting up here (at the interview table) have won a lot of games and been in a lot of situations and have played everybody there is pretty much in college basketball,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I think there’s a tremendous confidence from all those experiences that they have in them. And then I also think there’s a confidence and a fortitude to our belief that we’re going to be fine.

“We just got to get back to doing our thing. Again, they deserve all the credit for doing that. That’s hard to do in sports when it’s not going so well.”

Sunday marked the second biggest comeback of the season by the Zags, who trailed Michigan State by 12 early in the second half before claiming a 64-63 victory. GU trailed in the first half by nine before handling Alabama 100-90. 

“It’s been like that since the beginning of the season,” said senior forward Anton Watson, who got poked in the eye on the first play of the game, but chipped in 12 rebounds, nine points, four assists, three steals and one block. “Our last couple teams, it was kind of like we were blowing everybody out. We’ve had to fight through a lot of adversity this year.

“We played a lot of good teams early in the season, but it’s definitely showing and that helps us in moments like this.”

Drew Timme led the Zags back with 17 of his 28 points coming in the second half. He also fed Rasir Bolton for two 3-pointers that helped jumpstart the senior guard’s 13-point second half.

“It’s just calming,” Timme said. “We’ve fought back and it hasn’t worked out, but yet we get back up in the same position and fight and it works out. You know we’re going to fight no matter what. That’s the challenge of this young team that we talked about early. Over this long, rigorous season we figured it out.”

Gonzaga turned it around in the second half in three key aspects. The Zags won the boards by four, which Timme pointed to as a “huge reason why we came back.”

The Zags had a frigid shooting first half at 36.4%, including 2 of 14 on 3-pointers. They hit 52.9% from the field in the closing 20 minutes, including 6 of 11 3s (54.5%). Equally important, Gonzaga made 9 of 12 free throws after connecting on just 7 of 13 in the first 20 minutes.

“That goes back to our confidence,” point guard Nolan Hickman said. “The first half we weren’t making anything, we kept telling ourselves at half they’re going to go in. We missed all those shots and we were only down five.”

Gonzaga did a better job defensively on TCU star guard Mike Miles, who finished with 24 points but only four in the final 11-plus minutes when the Zags moved into the lead.

TCU Horned Frogs guard Mike Miles Jr. (1) reacts as the second half runs down against the Gonzaga Bulldogs 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)
TCU Horned Frogs guard Mike Miles Jr. (1) reacts as the second half runs down against the Gonzaga Bulldogs 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

“We just had to get it out of his hands,” Bolton said. “We were doubling, switching, rotating … trying to have somebody else try to make a play. We threw everything at him, and he was still a big factor for them.”

The offense ran through Timme, who delivered a layup with 1:41 left to bump GU’s lead to five.

“It’s just who we are,” Bolton said. “We had to grow, learn and it’s going to be a lot of tough competition. College basketball is all over the place this year.

“It doesn’t get easier, we definitely make things interesting, but we’ve got used to it down the stretch. We have our go-to plays, our bread-and-butters. Big Drew goes to work for us a lot. Really, we just make plays.”

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