Sport: Gonzaga basketball beats Kentucky: 3 takeaways as Drew Timme gets better of Oscar Tshiebwe

Kentucky’s terrible start too much to overcome. No. 2 Gonzaga hands Cats another loss.

  Kentucky’s terrible start too much to overcome. No. 2 Gonzaga hands Cats another loss. It was an all systems fail from the get-go for the Kentucky Wildcats on Sunday evening. A much-anticipated matchup between No. 4 UK and No. 2 Gonzaga fizzled — from the Cats’ perspective, at least — almost immediately, and the Bulldogs rolled Kentucky 88-72 in a packed Spokane Arena that was already raucous an hour before the opening tip. UK missed its first five shots of the game. The Zags made their first five shots of the game. By the time Oscar Tshiebwe finally got UK on the board with a turnaround jumper in the lane, Gonzaga was already up 8-0. The Zags jumped out to a 19-6 lead before the second TV timeout of the game.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Oscar Tshiebwe went up-and-under the outstretched arms of Drew Timme for two points. Timme responded in kind on the following possession, spinning around Tshiebwe for a bucket.

Back-to-back plays featuring two of the best, and most well known, players in college basketball.

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There was only one problem for college basketball fans the world over: that sequence was one of the rare times the two stars, front-runners for the national player of the year, made highlight-reel plays for their respective teams Sunday.

The specific issue for the Wildcats: Outside of Tshiebwe, no other player found much success against the Bulldogs. While Tshiebwe posted yet another double-double (20 points and 15 rebounds) — a bounceback for him after failing to record one in Thursday's lopsided win over South Carolina State — it took until the second half for his teammates to come alive. (Jacob Toppin had 16 points, Cason Wallace had 14 and Antonio Reeves reached 10 with a 3-pointer that rattled in with eight seconds to play.)

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Compare that lack of balance to Timme's squad. He had 22 points (on 9-of-13 shooting) and seven rebounds. And he had help in the form of Julian Strawther (matching Tshiebwe with a double-double of 20 points and 14 rebounds) and Rasir Bolton (game-high 24 points, 8-for-14 from the field).

Add it up, and it led to arguably the most high-profile non-conference contest of the season being a snoozer, with the Bulldogs cruising to an 88-72 victory.

The Wildcats (3-2) never led, as the Zags scored the first eight points, and 10 of the first 12. Gonzaga (3-1) took a 41-25 advantage into intermission.

Though Kentucky cut the deficit to 49-45 with 13:07 remaining on back-to-back 3-pointers from Wallace and Reeves, respectively, the Wildcats never truly threatened the Bulldogs at Spokane Arena. Following the second of the 3-point makes, Gonzaga outscored UK 39-27 in the final 12 minutes.

It's Kentucky's second loss in five games, both at the hands of programs — Michigan State is the other — it likely will need to beat come March, when the Wildcats begin their chase for their first Final Four appearance in seven years. For the Zags, it was exactly the response they wanted following their most one-sided loss in more than eight years. (Texas romped to a 93-74 victory over Gonzaga Wednesday in Austin, Texas.)

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Here are three takeaways from Sunday's game.

Tshiebwe wins matchup with Timme, but Zags star wins the game

Gonzaga forward Drew Timme (2) shoots while defended by Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak) © Young Kwak, AP Gonzaga forward Drew Timme (2) shoots while defended by Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe (34) during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

The pair were fairly evenly matched offensively, with Tshiebwe making 58.3% of his attempts, and Timme countering with a 69.2% mark. Tshiebwe, as he so often does, won the battle on the boards, pulling down a game-high 15 to Timme’s 7. Timme had more turnovers (4-2), but made up for it with three assists (Tshiebwe didn’t record an assist Sunday).

It’s clear, despite yet another stellar outing from Tshiebwe, that he’s still working to get his feet and stamina back. At times in the first half he kept looking to the bench, begging to come out. After one instance in which asked to sub, he committed a turnover moments later.

In a moment that seemed to sum up the game for the Wildcats, Tshiebwe missed a putback dunk during the first half … immediately after Toppin couldn’t slam the ball home on an alley oop.

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When it comes time for award season, and ballots have to be turned in for player of the year, this game won’t give either Tshiebwe or Timme the upper hand; for all intents and purposes, they played to a draw.

But Timme will take the team victory any day.

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Kentucky abysmal shooting beyond the arc

Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe, right, controls the ball while defended by Gonzaga forward Anton Watson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak) © Young Kwak, AP Kentucky forward Oscar Tshiebwe, right, controls the ball while defended by Gonzaga forward Anton Watson during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game, Sunday, Nov. 20, 2022, in Spokane, Wash. (AP Photo/Young Kwak)

Kentucky couldn’t buy a 3-point bucket in the first half. The Wildcats went 0-for-10 from deep in the opening 20 minutes. CJ Fredrick finally found the bottom of the net from behind the arc with 18:07 remaining.

UK added five more 3s thereafter, but it still finished just 6-for-25 on 3-point attempts. That’s a 24% success rate. On a night the Zags barely were better from long range — the hosts were 7 of 19 (36.8%) — it was a missed opportunity for the Wildcats to capitalize.

What’s more, more accurate shooting from distance would have made life easier for Tshiebwe, and Kentucky’s other post players.

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Defense the furthest thing from stingy

Just how bad was Kentucky defensively? Gonzaga made well over half its field goal attempts — flirting with 60% before settling at 56.4 (31 of 55).

Four of the Bulldogs’ five starters — Timme, Strawther, Bolton and Anton Watson — converted 50% (or more) of their attempts; the only one who didn’t was Nolan Hickman, the former Kentucky signee, who went 1-for-3 from the field for four points.

What’s equally maddening for the Wildcats: The Bulldogs had 18 turnovers, compared to just 11 for the visitors.

Despite that seven-turnover disparity, Gonzaga still outscored UK in points off turnovers 18-13.

The Wildcats have plenty to clean up in nearly every area heading into their next game, a 4 p.m. affair Wednesday against North Florida at Rupp Arena.

Reach Kentucky men’s basketball and football reporter Ryan Black at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @RyanABlack.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Gonzaga basketball beats Kentucky: 3 takeaways as Drew Timme gets better of Oscar Tshiebwe

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