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Gonzaga’s Drew Timme, the top player in the nation, had his best game to lead the No. 1 Zags over No. 5 Texas

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SPOKANE, Wash. — Six hours before No. 1 Gonzaga handed a no-doubt-about-it 86-74 defeat to No. 5 Texas, the best player in college basketball sauntered into a dead-quiet McCarthey Athletic Center in his go-to pair of walkaround black slippers. 

“You should get rid of those,” Drew Timme’s mother teased as they stood on the court where he’d soon enough drop a career-high 37 points against the fifth-ranked team in the country.

“Not a chance,” Timme instantly replied to Mom. 

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Those cozy slip-ons were housing two of the most valuable and crafty feet the college game has seen in a long time. The overwhelming preseason pick for national player of the year eventually ditched his slippers for a flashy pair of Gonzaga-red Nikes and went to work Saturday night. What resulted over the course of nearly two hours was the best game of his career: 37-and-7 on 15-of-19 shooting. 

“He was the best player on the floor tonight, no doubt about it,” first-year Texas coach Chris Beard said. 

“He played like the best player in college basketball,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said a few minutes later. 

That’s because he is. Almost one week into the season, there’s no reasonable counterargument to that. Gonzaga has the best player in the nation, and yet again, the best team. 

What had to be especially sweet for Timme: confirming his top-tier status and getting a huge win against the Longhorns, a program that was slow to recruit him, even though Timme grew into a top-50 prospect while playing high school ball in the greater Dallas area. 

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“Timme owns Texas!” the Zags’ student section chanted inside The Kennel on what was a magnificent night for this program and for college basketball. The sport was given back-to-back top-five matchups on Friday and Saturday, first with No. 2 UCLA’s overtime home win against No. 4 Villanova; and on Saturday, top-ranked Gonzaga making a declarative statement about its potential a year after going 31-1 and coming one game shy of making history as an undefeated national champion. 

Many pieces from last season’s team are gone, but there are two key returning starters in Timme and point guard Andrew Nembhard. Timme was brilliant, taking advantage of Texas’ small lineup early and scoring 11 of Gonzaga’s first 13 points. He had 22 in the first half, when Gonzaga led 47-27, Timme outscoring the Horns’ starting lineup. Yes, the ‘stache celebration is back and will be there to playfully torture opposing fans all season long. 

Timme told me prior to the game that he’ll continue to do that, and to point to his biceps after a big play, and essentially ham it up and embrace the environment college basketball brings. Without that, he’s not him. It’s what makes him great. 

“I always have fun when I play,” Timme said. “It’s a joy to play this game.”

Gonzaga also did it through more than 20 minutes without a point from Chet Holmgren, the 7-foot-1 freshman who was the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2021. Holmgren made life difficult at points for Texas on the defensive end, but he finished with two points. Meantime, Iowa State transfer Rasir Bolton added 16 points, three of which came on this absurd last-second prayer to close the first half. 

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“They’re really good,” Beard said. “They’re as good as advertised.”

The Bulldogs averaged 1.32 points per possession, a scorching rate for any team, let alone when you’re playing against a group that could prove to be pretty good. But the Texas questions will have to wait. There’s too much to figure out right now for Beard, who has plenty of experience and talent, it’s just a matter of how the team will learn and grow together. 

Saturday night was much more important for Gonzaga, which won’t be afforded nearly as many opportunities as Texas this season to earn notable wins and therefore enhance its chances at a high NCAA Tournament seed. The last time we saw Gonzaga play a team from a power conference, it was the Baylor Bears in the national championship game. 

From 31-0 to 31-1, a perfect season severed. A chance at history ripped away. And, unfair as it is, a slash against Gonzaga’s credentials for some. Baylor was so good, so dominant, so authoritative in that game vs. the Zags in Indianapolis, it altered the perspective on what Gonzaga had accomplished in the four-plus months leading up to that. However, prior to the Baylor thwacking, Gonzaga played 15 games vs. power-conference and/or top 75 KenPom teams. Average margin of victory: 15.1 points. 

Saturday night’s margin: 12. Very much more of the same for a program that’s finished No. 1 or No. 2 in predictive metrics at season’s end in four of the past five seasons. The pieces keep coming. Timme is the most important, but for Gonzaga to win so convincingly without getting much from its freshmen and to play only seven guys at least five minutes, it’s a good sign that more of the same is in store for the Zags in 2021-22. 

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At the center of it is Timme, who isn’t the strongest or fastest or most overwhelming. He’s none of that. He’s solid. He’s smart. He’s great in his own way, which makes the rest of the team great. In an era of ever-evolving big men with perimeter-insistent skillsets, Timme remains a charming — yet swaggy — throwback. Some have compared his ability to move in the post to a young Kevin McHale. Timme seems to know all the angles and myriad ways to find his points near the rim. 

Texas is a tough team with dudes. They were overmatched on Saturday. This was an old-school schooling by Timme. He put on a clinic. 

“He’s a load, man,” Texas’ Timmy Allen said. “He’s not the most athletic guy, but I’ve never played someone like that. It’s hard to guard a guy like that when they have such good players round him too.” 

More high-profile challenges are coming soon. UCLA and Duke await later this month in Las Vegas. It’s going to be hard for this season’s Gonzaga team to be better than last season’s. The constant is Drew Timme. If he’s getting better that means Gonzaga’s getting better. It was important to show up Saturday and remind college basketball just how overpowering this team can be.

With the biggest game at The Kennel in years, it felt right. A return to college basketball how it should be: fans in full-throat, deafening cheers, the best player on the best team sending notice that it’s right back at the top of the sport yet again. 

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