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College Basketball

Drew Timme Powered Gonzaga Into Yet Another Sweet 16

Drew Timme #2 of the Gonzaga Bulldogs reacts as DeAndre Williams #12 of the Memphis Tigers looks on after Gonzaga defeated Memphis 82-78 during the second half in the second round of the 2022 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Moda Center on March 19, 2022 in Portland, Oregon.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

For quite longer than anyone could have expected, except maybe Memphis, Gonzaga looked like it was going to pull a Gonzaga way earlier than usual. The first-seeded Bulldogs came out slow in Saturday night’s round of 32 game from Portland, just as they had in round one against Georgia State. The problem was that Memphis was a much better adversary this time around. Gonzaga trailed by 10 points at halftime, and it looked worse than that. The Bulldogs needed a hero, and they got one from their mustachioed leading scorer, Drew Timme.

After Memphis’s Landers Nolley II scored in the first minute of the second half to push the Tigers’ lead to 43-31, Timme got to work. Timme scored the next seven points, narrowing the lead to five, and 12 of Gonzaga’s next 14 also came from him, making it a two-point game with just under 14 minutes to go. Memphis had no answer for the 6’10” junior as he got driving, spinning layups, off-balance jumpers just out of the post, and even a three-pointer, just his eighth of the season.

That flurry of baskets also had the effect of getting Gonzaga locked in, an issue that has plagued them in the many, many embarrassing losses they’ve had as favorites throughout the years. The Bulldogs definitely got some help from the referees, whose whistles favored Gonzaga on what was meant to be a neutral court, but in actuality was a home-away-from-home game for the team from neighboring Washington. There were a handful of questionable foul calls that pushed Gonzaga up to 24 free throws on the night, none bigger than the ones by Andrew Nembhard down the stretch.

Still, though, Gonzaga had to win this game, and Timme’s barrage was only aided by one made free throw. After the game, he was asked how they got back into it, and though he tried to keep his emotions in check and not curse on live TV, he wasn’t quite successful:

In his defense, Timme was right: Though he led Gonzaga in points and was the key creator of its comeback, Nembhard was just as vital and did, in fact, get them “the shit” late on. Memphis didn’t buckle after its lead evaporated in just more than five minutes, so it took Nembhard’s late shooting to push Gonzaga over the top. The senior hit two clutch three-pointers in the last four and a half minutes to stave off Memphis’s own comeback. His four free throws in the last 25 seconds iced the game, sending Gonzaga to the next round.

With the win, Gonzaga has now made it to seven straight Sweet 16s. Perhaps, in retrospect, a loss here would have been too much of a shock to the system. That streak is tied for third longest in NCAA history, behind a 13-year run from North Carolina and a nine-year run from Duke. As one of the best programs in recent NCAA history, Gonzaga likely deserves to be spoken of in the same breath as those two ACC powerhouses. Now comes the harder part for a team that has been good enough to win titles, in theory, but not good enough to do so in practice.

Saturday night could have been yet another earlier-than-desired exit from the tournament, and for 20 minutes it looked almost certain as Memphis beat the Bulldogs up all over the court. One motivational speech and stretch of excellent play from its leader, though, and Gonzaga was able to survive. The team will travel a bit further from home for its Sweet 16 match-up against Arkansas on Thursday, but whether or not it will go all the way to the Final Four in New Orleans will be decided by how much stellar play it gets from its marquee players. Timme and Nembhard appear to be locked in, and that could spell danger for the rest of the West regional bracket.