Key matchup: Gonzaga’s Drew Timme hoping close friend Anton Watson can slow down good friend Jaime Jaquez Jr.
March 22, 2023 Updated Wed., March 22, 2023 at 6:10 p.m.
LAS VEGAS – Drew Timme has known UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez Jr. for years, dating back to their days as prep standouts.
They were roommates at the Ballislife All-American game and caught up at the ESPYS when Gonzaga’s 93-90 overtime against the Bruins in the 2021 Final Four was voted “Best Game.”
Their friendship is taking Thursday night off when third-seeded Gonzaga tangles with No. 2 UCLA at T-Mobile Arena.
“Great dude and love to see him do well,” Timme said. “That’s the thing I enjoy most about playing guys I’m friends with. We can take the friendship away for the court and then we can leave the court and be friends no matter what.”
Jaquez’s season and career rank among the best in UCLA’s storied history. The 6-foot-7, 225-pound senior forward was named Pac-12 Player of the Year, the first Bruin to receive the honor since Kevin Love in 2008.
He’s in the top 15 in program history in scoring (12th with 1,773 points) and rebounding (11th with 831), one of nine players in the top 15 in both categories in school history, a list that includes Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. He was named second-team All-America by the Associated Press after averaging 17.5 points and 8.1 rebounds this season.
Jaquez has been one of the most consistent players in the country with 12 consecutive double-digit games and at least 10 points in 33 of UCLA’s 36 games this season.
Anton Watson, one of Timme’s best friends, will likely be assigned to defend Jaquez.
“He’s kind of got some of Drew’s moves in the post,” Watson said. “He uses a lot of fakes. He’s probably going to try to put foul pressure on me. I just have to stay disciplined and stay down and make him take tough shots.”
Jaquez has had mixed results against the Zags. He scored 19 points and had six rebounds in an 83-63 loss to Gonzaga at T-Mobile Arena last season. He made just 7 of 22 shots in GU’s blowout victory.
Jaquez finished with 19 points and 12 boards in the overtime loss at the Final Four in Indianapolis.
He’s produced 20.5 points, 8.0 boards, 2.5 assists and 2.5 steals in UCLA’s two NCAA Tournament wins, elevating his averages in 11 career March Madness games to 15.5 points and 6.3 rebounds.
Jaquez rarely leaves the floor, logging 33.1 minutes per game. He’s also rarely in foul trouble. He was called for 65 fouls in 36 games, and he hasn’t had four fouls in a game since Feb. 2. He’s committed just three turnovers in the past four games.
Jaquez’s career high was 30 points against Washington State in February 2022. His sister, Gabriela, plays on the Bruins’ women’s team and they’re the only brother-sister combo to advance to their respective Sweet 16s.
Jaquez stresses defenses because he’s a three-levels scorer, but he’s particularly effective in the midrange and with clever moves operating off the bounce around the basket. One of Watson’s goals is to make Jaquez work on defense to lower his energy levels. Watson has averaged a career-best 11.3 points and nearly 13 points per game in GU’s past 20 contests.
“If he’s guarding me, I’m going to try to make it as hard as possible for him at the offensive end, just attacking him and crashing off boards and trying to put foul pressure on him,” Watson said.
Forward Ben Gregg and guard Malachi Smith will be options on Jaquez off the bench. The Zags also could put wing Julian Strawther on Jaquez in certain situations, but Strawther will likely open against 6-5 Amari Bailey or 6-4 David Singleton, presuming he’s healthy after spraining his ankle in a second-round win over Northwestern.
“There’s definitely some great (individual) matchups. It’s always a great matchup when we play UCLA,” senior guard Rasir Bolton said, “but we’re focused on winning the game.”
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