Drew Timme’s iconic ‘stache might be tragically missing from this college hoops season, but he and the Zags are back in full force after an absolute rout of the No. 2 team in the nation last night. In a rematch of March’s overtime Final Four game, Gonzaga looked like a varsity team scrimmaging JV at the end of practice. They racked up an early 20-point lead as the Bruins were held to ten points in the first twelve minutes of the game, a metric that I’m pretty sure even my godawful seventh-grade girls’ basketball team could have accomplished. Everything was falling in for the Zags, and their new undefendable seven-foot freshman Chet Holmgren certainly wasn’t hurting their chances, swatting UCLA shots out of the air left and right and putting up 15 points on top of Timme’s 18 and senior Andrew Nembhard’s 24-point showing. That 20-point lead never wavered — never really even threatened a waver — and it was a bloodbath set to the dulcet tones of Dickie V’s commentating.
Sure, it might be too early to ask, but is Gonzaga far above the rest this year?UCLA beat a highly ranked Villanova team less than two weeks ago. They’re not a bad team — in fact, they’re supposedly the second-best team in the nation right now — but Gonzaga made it look like an exhibition game. What’s making the difference? Shot selection is one, but even on some days where you’re making good decisions, the shots just won’t fall. The Zags shot early and often, and distributed opportunities all over the court.
“That’s the beauty of our system: Anybody can step up on any given night. And this team is so unselfish,” Timme said after the game. Gonzaga also picked up nearly twice as many defensive rebounds as the Bruins (perhaps because there are more opportunities to rebound defensively when your opponent is missing most of their shots). On the opposite end, UCLA only shot 35 percent from the field and 17 percent from the three, missing 25 of their first 31 shots to put them in an unclimbable hole. Luckily, they’ll have some time to rebuild their confidence and improve their game, as the Bruins’ next ranked matchup isn’t until December 30.
Barring injuries and freak upsets (the latter of which I hope is never barred, as that is the best part of college basketball), the Zags’ biggest challenge until tourney time is this week. Holmgren and his squad will face a very good Duke team, complete with Holmgren’s top competitor for the No. 1 draft pick of 2022, Paolo Banchero. UCLA was supposed to be a test, and maybe it was — maybe the Zags are so good that they can make a test like that look easy. So it’s onto the next, and I’ll be one of the many media members to say that maybe No. 5 Duke is the real test for this Zags team, that maybe this game will actually live up to the hype that the 1-2 matchup failed to do.
College hoops are a deeply unpredictable beast, so I’m not going to sit here and speculate at length on what the final score might look like in Friday’s game. I think this Duke team is the real deal. But I think that Gonzaga is looking not only at a second consecutive undefeated regular season, but could be staring down their chance at the title this year after their season ended in heartbreak against Baylor this past March. If they get past Duke, there’s no one else even close to their level of play right now. And anyways, regarding Baylor, schools shouldn’t be allowed to have good football and basketball teams. It spoils the students. Pick one.