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In early measuring-stick moment, Texas meets Gonzaga in top-five November matchup

Horns are 0-11 all-time against No. 1-ranked opponents; Beard: ‘I would argue Saturday night’s game is the biggest game in college basketball’

To win big, you must think big. 

To earn national acclaim, you must seek out a national spotlight. 

No. 5 Texas will do both Saturday night against No. 1 Gonzaga. 

“You know, I would argue Saturday night’s game is the biggest game in college basketball,” UT coach Chris Beard said. 

Forward Drew Timme, left, and center Chet Holmgren, right, give Gonzaga a height advantage over Texas in Saturday night's matchup of No. 1 vs. No. 5. The Longhorns are 0-11 all-time vs. No. 1 teams.

There’s simply no better way for the Longhorns (1-0) to earn concrete credibility than to go all the way to Spokane, Wash., and get a hard-earned win in the second game of the season. It’s also another chance to break one of the longest not-so-appealing streaks in UT history. The Horns are 0-11 all-time against teams ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press Top 25 poll.

“We know our ultimate goal is to win games like we have Saturday,” guard Courtney Ramey said. “That’s the biggest challenge we have right now, is getting ready for that game.”

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Make no mistake: The Zags (1-0) present a big challenge. Drew Timme, the bearded 6-foot-10 junior from Richardson who averaged 19 points last season, returns. The Zags have added 7-foot freshman Chet Holmgren, who was widely considered the nation’s No. 1 recruit. 

Texas forward Tre Mitchell, at 6 feet 9, will be tasked with defending Gonzaga's 7-foot freshman, Chet Holmgren, who many believe will be a one-and-done player. Mitchell is the Longhorns' tallest player.

For all the talent Beard has recruited this season, the Horns don’t have anybody like Holmgren. Texas’ tallest player is 6-9 Tre Mitchell. UT’s other 6-9 big man, Dylan Disu, is still out with a knee injury. 

In Gonzaga’s season opener against Dixie State, Holmgren had 14 points, 13 rebounds, seven blocks and six assists — darn near a quadruple-double in his first collegiate game.

Beard was reminded of the first time Texas Tech faced Texas freshman Kevin Durant during the 2006-07 season. The Red Raiders ran three defenders at Durant, who took a shot almost falling out of bounds and made it, Beard said. 

“I’m not trying to compare Chet to K.D.,” Beard said. “But I guess I am kind of comparing them. He’s long, athletic, a positionless player.”

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Holmgren has already heard all kinds of comparisons. He’s a likely one-and-done guy for the Zags, just as Jarrett Allen, Mo Bamba and Jaxson Hayes were for Texas.

“If people want to compare me to this person or that, that’s definitely cool,” Holmgren told Gonzaga reporters Tuesday. “At the end of the day, I’m trying to put together my own game and be my own player. I’m trying to stand out in my own way and help my team win games.”

Technically, this game is the start of a home-and-home contract between the two schools. Gonzaga was supposed to come to Austin last season, but the pandemic changed everything. 

Now the Zags will make the return trip next season when the Horns move into the new Moody Center. It’ll be one of the biggest nonconference games of the season, too. 

Gonzaga coach Mark Few has shaped the Bulldogs into a perennial Final Four contender. They were NCAA runners-up last season after falling to Baylor in the national championship game.

Under Beard, Texas could become one of those schools that gets invited to these made-for-TV matchups to kick-start seasons. Kansas played Michigan State and Kentucky faced Duke on Tuesday, for example. Those teams are college basketball royalty. 

“If they wanted to make that a five-man party, we’d be more than welcome to come,” Beard said.

Gonzaga has been remarkably consistent through the years under coach Mark Few, now in his 23rd season. The Zags would win one game in the NCAA Tournament and then lose in the second round. Then the program would reach the Sweet 16 but not get to the Elite Eight.

Now the Zags are routinely legitimate Final Four contenders. Last season Timme led Gonzaga all the way to the national championship game, only to lose to Baylor.

“When the deal just started, you thought of Adam Morrison,” Beard said. “Now there’s been 15 Adam Morrisons since then.”

This is the type of consistency fans would love to see under Beard, who's now leading his alma mater and openly talks about the Horns being a “Monday night program.” He talks about having a defense that can win “six games in three weeks” in March. Unlike some coaches, he is unafraid to lay it out there — Texas wants to win a national title. 

Obviously, the Horns have to wait until March. But nonconference games like Saturday's are part of the journey to get there.

UT big men Timmy Allen, Christian Bishop and Mitchell must combat the size and versatility of Timme, Holmgren and Julian Strawther. The Texas guards will have their hands full defending Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton and Nolan Hickman.

Texas forward Timmy Allen, jumping to block a shot during a 96-33 exhibition win over Texas Lutheran on Nov. 1, is likely to find the going tougher against Gonzaga's big men.

There’s an interesting battle of veterans between UT’s Andrew Jones and Gonzaga’s Andrew Nembhard. Both teams have younger players figuring out their roles, too. 

The winner won’t be crowned a national champion. The loser won’t be out of the race, either. 

If these two teams meet again in March, Saturday’s game film won’t be nearly as important as the games played in February. This is one basketball game before Thanksgiving while football is still raging. It must be viewed in proper context. 

Still, this is a top-five matchup between two programs with sky-high ambitions. Whenever those types of teams meet, people take notice.

Dream big, Texas fans. The coach sure is.

“We’re going to win that game Saturday night no matter what the scoreboard says because we’re going to learn so much about ourselves,” Beard said. “It’s exactly what we need early season to see where we’re at.”

Contact Brian Davis by phone or text at 512-445-3957. Email bdavis@statesman.com or @BDavisAAS.