Gonzaga built a comfortable lead, thanks in large part to Drew Timme, but Oklahoma wasn’t going away.
The Sooners kept chipping into the deficit and threatening to make things interesting in crunchtime for the NCAA men’s tournament’s top overall seed. One problem: Timme wasn’t in the mood for any late-game drama.
The sophomore was GU’s go-to man down the stretch and he delivered as the Bulldogs handled Oklahoma 87-71 Monday in Indianapolis to advance to the Sweet 16 for the sixth consecutive tournament.
“Obviously it’s a childhood dream,” Timme said. “This feeling is only going to last the rest of the night and then we’ve got to prepare and we have a lot of work to do. We’re not satisfied with this. This is not the end goal.”
It was the end of the line for the feisty Sooners (16-11), who led early and rallied late, but they couldn’t contain Gonzaga’s prolific offense. Specifically, they had no answer for Timme.
The 6-foot-10 sophomore forward poured in a career-high 30 points, equaled his career best with 13 rebounds and added four assists, one shy of his personal best set in the victory Saturday over Norfolk State.
His efficiency was off the charts. He hit 9 of 12 shots and 12 of 14 free throws. He tapped deep into his reservoir of post moves, using crafty ball fakes and footwork to dominate in the lane.
After Oklahoma cut GU’s lead to 77-68 with 2:35 remaining, Timme scooped up a loose ball and was fouled. He hit both free throws and did the same thing on the next possession after the Sooners had trimmed the lead to nine.
“My (free-throw) percentage is something that is unacceptable to me and I hold myself to a high standard so I’ve been repping it out every single day,” said Timme, who was at 67.9% entering the game. “I’m just glad that the work is paying off, especially in a close game like that. I felt that was a big part of the game.”
Corey Kispert put a bow on the undefeated Zags’ 28th win with a three-pointer with 1:14 left that hiked Gonzaga’s lead to 84-70 in the Hinkle Fieldhouse, home of the Butler University Bulldogs.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few’s hair appeared to be soaked when he arrived for the postgame Zoom call with media, likely from being doused by his players in the locker room.
“We’ve been celebrating every one of these wins,” Few said. “We celebrated the other night. If we’re lucky enough to get another one, we’re going to celebrate like crazy for that one. This tournament needs to be celebrated.
“It’s been a long, hard slog to get to this and the people at the NCAA deserve a lot of credit for sticking with this and putting it on.”
Oklahoma tossed the first punch or two as Brady Manek hit a quick three-pointer, Umoja Gibson hit two more threes and Austin Reaves, who finished with 27 points, penetrated for a three-point play.
Gonzaga trailed 12-4, but not for long. The Zags ran at every opportunity — after Oklahoma turnovers, missed shots and even made shots. The Sooners were content with the fast pace early, but Gonzaga began limiting their open looks and had little problem finding quality shots at the other end.
“That’s what they like to do,” Reaves said. “We were trying to stay away from that, from them getting out in transition. If we could get out in transition, it is what it is.”
Gonzaga led 46-34 at half, much of that built on a 9-0 edge in points off turnovers. The Zags expanded the margin to 66-47 after Anton Watson’s layup.
The Zags’ shooting accuracy faded in the latter stages and they ended up at 49.1%, a season low. The Zags, tops in the nation at 55.1%, have had just three games below 50%.
It hardly mattered as Gonzaga hit eight threes, four by Kispert, and 23 of 26 free throws. Kispert and Jalen Suggs both scored 16 points and Joel Ayayi had 12 points and eight boards.
“The one thing when you’re on our bench, there’s a comfort in knowing that eventually we’re going to get going (offensively). At least, that’s how I feel,” Few said of the offense. “Buy hey, our defense has been pretty dang good all year.
“Our offense has been at a historical level so it gets a lot of the pub, but we ended up top 10 in DER (defensive efficiency rating), which is nothing to sneeze at.”
The Zags now advance to face No. 5-seed Creighton (22-8), a 72-58 winner over Ohio on Monday. That game is scheduled for Sunday at a time to be announced.