On Wednesday evening, the No. 11 Texas Longhorns host the No. 2 Gonzaga Bulldogs in the season’s premier non-conference matchup and the biggest game in the short history of the Moody Center.
Head coach Chris Beard’s team is looking for revenge after last season’s 86-74 loss in which the final score didn’t reflect how badly the Bulldogs beat the Longhorns in Spokane — Gonzaga led by 20 points at halftime before cruising to an easy victory behind a career-high 37 points from star forward Drew Timme, who dominated Texas inside by hitting 15-of-19 shots from the field.
Timme is back for his senior season with the Zags and off to a predictably strong start averaging 22 points per game in the first two contests while adding 7.5 rebounds and three assists per game.
Some of the supporting cast around Timme looks different this season — center Chet Holmgren was the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft and lead guard Andrew Nembhard is now playing for the Indiana Pacers, giving way to LSU transfer center Elfron Reid and Chattanooga transfer guard Malachi Smith, the mid-major player of the year last season after averaging 19.9 points per game.
But Gonzaga does also have a high level of continuity with returning players like guard Julian Strather, who is second on the team in scoring at 14.5 points per game, Iowa State transfer guard Rasir Bolton, who led the team in three-point shooting last year at 46 percent, forward Anton Watson, and guard Nolan Hickman.
Head coach Mark Few’s team has been efficient shooting the ball in the first two games, hitting at 53.7 percent from the field, but the Bulldogs have struggled from beyond the arc, making just 29 percent of their long-range attempts. Turnovers have been an issue, too, with 32 through two games as Timme, Reid, and Strawther have each given the ball away five times.
For Texas, the emphasis defensively will be on providing more resistance against Timme after forward Dylan Disu missed last year’s game and undersized forward Christian Bishop struggled to defend the bigger Timme. The guards will also play a role by providing enough ball pressure to make entry passes difficult and helping the frontcourt on the defensive glass and Beard may even have to send occasional double teams after paying the price for declining to do so last season.
“Lots of emphasis whenever you play against an All-American like Drew Timme and certainly one of them is the foul game — we want to make Drew play defense, we want to be aggressive,” Beard said on Tuesday. “And then on the other hand, we want to understand that each possession is kind of a life in itself and we can’t get too eager or too aggressive.”
On offense, the Horns will continue to look to push the ball in transition, especially when the guards or forward Timmy Allen secure defensive rebounds, in an effort to get easy baskets outside of the halfcourt offense.
“We’re really creating a big percentage of our offense in the open court,” Beard said.
So far, that’s been a strength for Texas with a 43-1 advantage over its first two opponents after playing slowly in Beard’s first season, but like the Bulldogs, the Longhorns haven’t been able to make three-pointers, starting 7-of-36 shooting (19.4 percent) after missing their first 14 attempts against the Huskies last Thursday in a game during which walk ons eventually hit two of the three made three-point attempts.
“Overall, taking good shots, so we’ve got to stay the course — it’s two games in,” Beard said. “Sometimes that stat sheet looks really, really good and about a month later, you kind of miss it. Sometimes you get off to a slow start. And so, we can shoot the ball better, we’ve got good shooting, we’ll stay committed to the process on that. Same thing with the free-throw line. We’ll stay committed to the process there.”
Texas is shooting 64.6 percent from the line, but most of the struggles are from three players — forward Dillon Mitchell, guard Arterio Morris, and Bishop are a combined 0-for-10 to start the year.
How to Watch:
Time: 8:30 p.m. Central
Radio: Longhorn IMG Radio Network (affiliates available on Texassports.com)
Odds: The Longhorns are two-point favorites over the Zags, according to DraftKings. Odds/lines are subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.