No. 1 Gonzaga tangles with No. 5 Texas

NCAA Men

No. 1 Gonzaga tangles with No. 5 Texas

Chris Beard might seem more like a chemistry professor than a basketball coach during his first season at Texas, his alma mater.

That’s because the former Texas Tech coach brought in seven transfers with NCAA Division I experience.

The fifth-ranked Longhorns crushed Houston Baptist 92-48 in the season opener Tuesday with six players reaching double-digit scoring, but will face a much more difficult test Saturday when they meet No. 1 Gonzaga in Spokane, Wash.

“Our team’s a work in progress,” Beard said. “We have a lot of experience. I think that would be the identity of the team. But we’re the first to tell you that we’re really inexperienced playing together. It’s kind of like experienced inexperience, if that makes sense.”

Beard didn’t just bring in experienced players, he brought in talented ones.

In the frontcourt, Timmy Allen (Utah) was a first-team Pacific-12 selection and led the Utes in scoring (17.2 ppg) and rebounding (6.4), Dylan Disu (Vanderbilt) led the Southeastern Conference in rebounding (9.2), Christian Bishop (Creighton) averaged 11 points and 6.4 rebounds and Tre Mitchell (UMass) was a first-team Atlantic 10 pick with 18.8 points and 7.2 rebounds per game.

The Longhorns also added guards Devin Askew (Kentucky), who played nearly 30 minutes per game as a freshman last season, first-team Big Ten selection Marcus Carr (Minnesota) and his 19.4 points and 4.9 assists per game and Avery Benson (Texas Tech).

“That’s why I came here – to be around the best players, be around the best coaches, be pushed each day,” Carr said.

They also came to win. Among those transfers, only Benson and Bishop were on teams that reached the NCAA Tournament last season.

“I’m a winner, and I’m looking to win championships,” Allen said. “I’m looking to be surrounded by the best players in the country every day.”

One could say the same about Gonzaga, whose only loss last season came in the national championship game.

The Zags added three of the nation’s top 25 high school recruits in ESPN’s rankings, including 7-footer Chet Holmgren, the top overall prospect who has been called a “unicorn.”

In Gonzaga’s opener, a 97-63 victory against visiting Dixie State on Tuesday, Holmgren had 14 points, 13 rebounds, six assists and tied a school record with seven blocked shots.

“Chet’s spectacular. He’s unbelievable. He should be celebrated,” said Gonzaga assistant coach Brian Michaelson, who filled in as Mark Few completed a suspension for a September DUI. “His work ethic is out of this world. He prepares for success.”

Holmgren was a little more low-key.

“It’s pretty cool,” Holmgren said of his debut. “I’m just happy we were able to come home with a win.”

Julian Strawther, making his first collegiate start, scored a team-high 17 points and added 10 rebounds as Gonzaga won its 52nd consecutive home game, a program record. The team’s last home loss was Jan. 18, 2018, to Saint Mary’s.

Transfer Rasir Bolton (Iowa State/Penn State) added 15 points and Drew Timme, the reigning Karl Malone Award winner as the nation’s top power forward, scored 11 in limited minutes.

While Timme is a native Texan, another Zag looking forward to Saturday’s matchup is Bolton, who faced the Longhorns several times in Big 12 Conference play while at Iowa State.

“It’s going to be a battle,” Bolton said.

–Field Level Media

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