The No. 5 Texas Longhorns travel to Spokane on Saturday evening to face the No. 1 Gonzaga Bulldogs attempting to make history by winning a game against the Bulldogs for the first time in school history and defeating an AP top-ranked opponent for the first time.
Texas is 0-3 against Gonzaga with the last loss coming in Portland in 2017 and faces its biggest non-conference test in only the second game under new head coach Chris Beard following Tuesday’s 92-48 victory over Houston Baptist.
Six players reached double digits in that game and eight players score at least eight points as Texas shot 64.0 percent from the field and 59.1 percent from the three-point line. Defensively, the Horns held the Huskies to 48 points on 32.7-percent shooting while limiting Houston Baptist to six assists against 17 turnovers.
Needless to say, the Bulldogs represent a challenge in a different stratosphere. Head coach Mark Few’s team enters Saturday’s game 1-0 following a 97-63 win over Dixie State in which five players scored in double digits.
Star freshman center Chet Holmgren, a 7’0-footer ranked as the No. 1 recruit nationally in the 2021 recruiting class, according to the 247Sports Composite rankings, made his collegiate debut with 14 points, seven blocks, and six assists.
Next to Holmgren in the frontcourt is junior forward Drew Timme, who opted to return to college after scoring 19 points per game as a sophomore on 65.5-percent shooting.
Both players will test a Longhorns frontcourt that starts 6’6 senior Timmy Allen and 6’7 senior Christian Bishop, but may need to use more big lineups to counter the size and length of the Bulldogs inside. Of particular concern is the defensive rebounding after Texas allowed 16 offensive boards to Houston Baptist on Tuesday — this may be a game where the guards need to crash the defensive glass hard, too.
Another potential matchup problem for Beard’s team is sophomore forward Julian Strawther, a breakout candidate this season for Gonzaga after leading the team with 17 points against Dixie State while adding 10 rebounds (six offensive) and two steals. Texas may need to remove one of the three guards from the starting lineup. If not, one of the guards will face a significant size mismatch against the 6’7 wing.
Bolstering the backcourt is a familiar face to followers of Big 12 basketball, as Iowa State guard Rasir Bolton transferred to Gonzaga after averaging 15.5 points per game and 3.9 assists per game last season for the Cyclones.
Gonzaga is expected to play fast this season and possesses the nation’s top offense in KenPom.com’s rankings, as well as the No. 5 defense. And although the season opener is the smallest sample size possible, two possible concerns for the Bulldogs emerged — the team made only 6-of-21 three-point attempts (28.6 percent) and turned the ball over 15 times, including five turnovers by Holmgren.
So active hands and strong anticipation in the passing lanes are key factors for the Longhorns defensively and Beard may opt to pack the paint to limit post touches and force the Bulldogs to win by out-shooting Texas from the perimeter.
However Beard decides to defend Gonzaga, there’s no question the Bulldogs are an immensely difficult matchup for the Longhorns and will serve as a key barometer of how well this team has come together early in the season.
How to Watch:
Date: Saturday, Nov. 13
Time: 9:30 p.m. Central
Radio: Visit Texassports.com for affiliates
Online Streaming: WatchESPN