‘It’s our starting point’: Texas learns the importance of aggression in loss to Gonzaga
SPOKANE, Wash. — Texas coach Chris Beard didn’t have many options. The only defensive strategy that would’ve worked Saturday night would’ve been putting Drew Timme in handcuffs and a headlock.
Maybe smash him with a folding chair or a 2-by-4. Kidnapping would’ve worked, too. All ideas are welcome.
Whatever it takes to get college basketball’s best big man off the floor.
“He’s a load, man,” Texas forward Timmy Allen said. “He’s not the most athletic guy, but I’ve never played someone like that. So a lot of respect to him.”
Timme was a demolition man. No. 1 Gonzaga clipped No. 5 Texas 86-74 in what was billed as the biggest game ever at the Kennel. The Richardson Pearce graduate piled up a career-high 37 points and was seen flexing and preening at times for the sellout crowd of 6,000 packed into the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“It's huge to have arguably the best player in college basketball, and he played like it tonight,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “I mean, I don't think he left any doubt tonight.”
No doubt Beard was frustrated, too.
“I wish we would’ve played a lot better,” he said. “I wish we’d have put a better product on the floor for all of college basketball fans tonight.”
Oh, yes, the Horns (1-1) certainly learned a lot about themselves during a rough-and-tumble two hours in the Pacific Northwest. Texas learned that if you give great players an inch, they’ll take a mile. And the only thing opponents respect is brute force.
In the first half, Texas let Timme run wild. He knocked Christian Bishop on his rear and scored. Timme made a move that knocked Allen on his duff, too. The Zags (2-0) raced out to a 25-13 lead in the first 10 minutes, and the Horns were battling uphill the rest of the night.
“We messed up some defensive rotations that led to some very, very easy buckets for Timme early,” forward Tre Mitchell said. “When you let a player like that see the ball go through the net that early in the game, it’s going to be a long game.”
Beard tried everything. Defensively, Texas tried Bishop, Allen, Brock Cunningham, a double team of Allen and Bishop, and guards Courtney Ramey and then Marcus Carr in the first half. Nothing worked.
“We were just kind of trading baskets, but we couldn’t have played any worse defensively in the first four minutes of the game,” Beard said. In retrospect, the coach said he should have called a few timeouts just to maybe disrupt Gonzaga’s flow. “I wish I could have helped the guys more early.”
Why didn’t Beard run more double teams at Timme? The time he did, with Allen and Bishop, Timme got crossed up and drew a foul. “No question, fair question,” Beard said. “We probably should have. A lot of times we did; we were just making mistakes.”
Texas’ tentative offensive approach didn’t help. The Horns were 3-for-13 from 3-point range in the first half as too many times players passed up open shots. UT had two shot clock violations and would have had a third if Carr hadn’t unleashed an off-balance 3-pointer over Timme.
Something had to change. The second half, Texas was the aggressor.
Tre Mitchell went at the rim on the first possession. He missed, but Allen was there for cleanup, getting a bucket and drawing a foul. Carr scored in the paint. Suddenly, things were opening up. Jase Febres hit a 3-pointer, and Bishop scored.
Texas, down by as many as 22, started climbing back and got within 11 with 10:11 remaining. Once again, it was a competitive affair. Gonzaga missed 10 of 11 shots during one stretch, and the door was cracked.
Nope. Timme slammed it shut and locked the deadbolt.
He scored on a reverse layup and a driving layup and again on a short jumper in the lane. His 3-point play with 6:47 left pushed the lead back to 19.
“You can talk about Kevin McHale and pivots and pump fakes and all this,” Beard said. “But until you see the skill level he has, it’s hard. We actually had a multilayered game plan. We just didn’t get a lot done.”
Even mind games didn’t work. Ramey pushed his shoulder into Timme walking past him at the free throw line, moving him off the spot, and Timme just pointed and laughed. By the end, the Gonzaga student section was yelling, “You can’t guard him!”
Texas actually played much better in the second half overall. The Horns shot 51.6% after the break. But they simply gave up way too many points in the paint (44-22) and got crossed up too much on defensive rotations.
“Second half, we played better, but we just didn’t come out and do what we were supposed to do,” Carr said. “We came out and didn’t execute our defensive game plan, pretty much at all.”
Said Mitchell: “I think I finished with a doughnut on the backboard. But that’s nothing but an excuse. I’ve got to go out there and get it done.”
Well, Mitchell had one rebound, so there’s that. Allen had a team-high 18 points for the Horns while Carr added 11 and Febres had 10. It’s a group that battled all night long, but Timme’s initial surge simply gave the Zags the leg up.
“I couldn't be more proud of these guys, because that's a tough team,” Timme said of Texas. “Like coach said, they're going to be a really good team, and, well, they are really good team. So you know, it was a good challenge for us.”
Now Texas returns home with plenty to think about and work on.
“I’ll tell you guys exactly what I told the team after the game,” Beard said. “All right, guys, we could be in this locker room and if things would have gone the other way, we’d be celebrating. But the reality of it is we’re the same team. This 40-minute game doesn’t make us any worse or better.
“It’s our starting point,” Beard added. “The big thing now is just growth and improvement.”