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Gonzaga Basketball

Drew Timme’s revenge, Julian Strawther hits 1K and three other takeaways from Gonzaga’s opening games at the NCAA Tournament

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)

DENVER – As Drew Timme put it in a postgame interview, Gonzaga spent too much time “bobbing and weaving” as the Bulldogs fell into a 10-point hole in the first half of Sunday’s game against TCU.

As for Gonzaga’s play after the break?

“In the second half we punched back,” Timme said, “we flipped the script.”

The Bulldogs extended their steak of consecutive Sweet 16 appearances to eight – the second-longest run in NCAA history – by edging the Horned Frogs at Ball Arena.

Before Gonzaga heads back to Las Vegas for another high-stakes postseason game against UCLA, here are five takeaways from wins over Grand Canyon and TCU.

Timme’s revenge

More often than not, Timme doesn’t have to go searching for bulletin board material. It usually has a way of finding him.

That was the case on Saturday when a quote from TCU forward JaKobe Coles about Timme made its way through social media channels.

“Big body, got good moves, got good footwork but I don’t think it’s nothing we can’t handle,” Coles said. “Me and X (Xavier Cork) have guarded plenty of bigs this year who have just as good a footwork as any other big in the country, and I think we’ll do a good job of that.”

The Gonzaga forward is semi-active on social media, but he doesn’t miss much and Cole’s comment was relayed to Timme at some point Saturday evening or Sunday morning before the Bulldogs and Horned Frogs tipped off in Denver.

Timme responded on the court by pouring in a game-high 28 points and securing eight rebounds. The outspoken senior didn’t leave it at that, though, using a postgame press conference to offer some final words.

“Well, I saw some nice things on the internet before, maybe taking some shots at us, me and our program,” Timme said. “Throw a little lighter fluid on the fire if you wish. I thought TCU was a highly educated school, and they didn’t sound so smart with their comments pregame, so you know.”

Sunday’s win felt good on a few levels for Timme, who faced a variety of TCU players while attending Pearce High School in Richardson, Texas. Coles played on a Guyer High School team that ended Timme’s senior season in the 2019 state playoffs. The GU star was eager for a chance to return the favor on a national stage.

“I actually played against probably half those dudes that played in high school in Texas, and never really beat any of them,” Timme said. “Their teams were better than mine. So the game was a little personal for me. I wanted to get my lick back because one of those teams always beat us or something, so it was nice to get it back.”

Leveling out

Gonzaga fans who watched the Bulldogs bow out of the 2022 NCAA Tournament after a dismal 3-point shooting performance in the Sweet 16 against Arkansas may have felt deja vu in the first half on Sunday against TCU.

The Bulldogs finished 5 of 21 from the 3-point line in last year’s Sweet 16 loss and were shooting at a lower clip than that through 20 minutes of play against TCU, despite getting quality looks.

Julian Strawther and Rasir Bolton were a combined 1 of 9 from deep in the first half, but both returned to their efficient ways in the second half and other Gonzaga teammates started to follow along.

After an 0 for 5 start in the first half, Bolton unleashed a high-arcing rainbow from the left elbow that cut TCU’s lead to 43-40 and drilled another one, this time from the corner, just 96 seconds later.

“On the biggest of stages to have that kind of belief in yourself and not cave in, which I think a lot of guys would and say it’s not my night, it’s unbelievable, and that was a microcosm of our whole team effort in the second half,” GU coach Mark Few said.

Strawther put Gonzaga in front for the first time since the score was 6-4 with a catch-and-shoot 3, and Malachi Smith, the team’s most accurate 3-point shooter this season at 49%, came off the bench to bury two more in the second half.

“We’re confident shooters and we just knew if we just kept getting the right ones and the smart ones, they were going to drop,” Smith said. “When they did, we knew we were good to go.”

The Zags finished 6 of 11 from 3 in the second half . Perhaps the biggest signal their fortunes had changed came when Timme made just his third 3-pointer in 1,100 minutes on the floor this season.

“Rasir and I work on those all the time,” Timme laughed. “It was a low clock, I guess the opportunity presented itself. They hit some crazy threes, too, so I guess the balance of the scale you could say. It was huge, late clock, two-point game, just kind of launched one up there and it went in. All you can do is smile and laugh.”

Strawther joins 1K club

His mouth bloodied from a collision in the second half of Sunday’s game, Julian Strawther was reluctant to speak with reporters in Gonzaga’s locker room.

Strawther didn’t need to say much in Denver, mainly because he let his play do most of the talking in wins over GCU and TCU. With those, the Las Vegas native helped the Zags clinch a return trip to his hometown for undoubtedly the biggest game – or games – of his career to this point.

The junior wing was not a major contributor to Gonzaga’s 2020-21 national runner-up team, and he combined for only 21 points, on 28% shooting, while playing 85 minutes in the 2022 NCAA Tournament.

Strawther returned to March Madness looking to be more assertive – something the Bulldogs have required of him this season – and left Denver with a career milestone, scoring the 1,000th point of his career on Sunday against TCU.

Strawther did most of the leg work during a 26-point outing against Grand Canyon and scored 10 more points against the Horned Frogs to reach 1,001 for his career. He becomes the 48th player in program history to join the 1K club, scoring all but 85 of his 1,001 points during his sophomore and junior seasons.

Mile High marks

In the opening round of the 2022 NCAA Tournament against Georgia State, Timme moved past Adam Morrison to become Gonzaga’s all-time scoring leader at March Madness.

Last week in Denver, he climbed to the top of the school’s NCAA rebounding list, hauling down 14 boards against Grand Canyon and TCU to pass Casey Calvary, the previous record-holder with 80 rebounds.

Timme was the first Gonzaga player to score 150 and 200 points in NCAA Tournament play, and the senior forward eclipsed 250 by scoring 49 points last week at Ball Arena. He now has 87 rebounds in 10 NCAA Tournament games.

Timme’s frontcourt mate, Anton Watson, is making a charge to the top of the school’s list for most steals in NCAA Tournament history. Watson came to Denver with 12 and left with 17, passing Kevin Pangos for No. 2 all-time. The Gonzaga Prep product would need three more to match Josh Perkins for No. 1.

“I think what gets lost even in a game like this is just the absolute calming influence that Anton Watson has on our team,” Few said. “He’s the glue that holds our whole defense together. And then he again is always in there on offensive rebounds, getting us extra possessions.

“When we needed a basket, he had a big floater today and he goes for a double-double in an NCAA Tournament game.”

Zags stymie fastbreak, O-board chances

TCU came into Sunday’s game as the top fastbreak team in college basketball, averaging 17.7 points per game.

The Horned Frogs were also tied for the Big-12 lead in offensive rebounding, averaging 11.5 offensive boards per game.

Gonzaga ranked No. 35 nationally in fastbreak points and the Bulldogs were No. 164 in offensive rebounds, but they managed to flip the script on Sunday, outperforming TCU in both categories en route to their three-point win.

The Bulldogs haven’t been as strong in transition as they’ve been in past years, but still managed to rack up a 24-10 advantage on the Horned Frogs in fastbreak points.

Gonzaga had 12 offensive rebounds compared to 10 from TCU.