Top-ranked Gonzaga has a showdown with No. 2 UCLA waiting, but first the Bulldogs face Central Michigan in their opening game of the Good Sam Empire Classic on Monday night in Las Vegas.
The Bulldogs (4-0) look to stay unbeaten when they battle the Chippewas (1-2) one night before their highly anticipated clash with UCLA, the program they beat in overtime in last season’s Final Four.
Gonzaga has won its first four games by an average of 28.8 points, which includes a 92-50 rout of Bellarmine on Friday.
Star forward Drew Timme scored 25 points to become the 47th player in school history to top 1,000 points. He finished the game in 45th place with 1,014.
“That is a far-off number,” guard Nolan Hickman said of Timme’s milestone. “He deserves that. He’s been working too hard, been getting too many buckets, so I’m proud of him.”
Timme’s point total against Bellarmine was his second-highest of the season. He poured in a career-best 37 on 15-of-19 shooting during an 86-74 triumph over then-No. 5 Texas on Nov. 13.
Timme is averaging a team-leading 20.8 points. Julian Strawther (14.8), freshman sensation Chet Holmgren (11.3) and Rasir Bolton (10.3) also are scoring in double digits.
Holmgren, the nation’s top high school player last season, has lived up to his immense billing. He is shooting 68 percent while averaging 7.3 rebounds, four assists and four blocked shots.
Against Bellarmine, the 7-foot Holmgren scored a season-high 18 points on 8-of-10 shooting and added five rebounds, five assists, two blocked shots and two steals. Seven of his eight baskets were dunks.
“It’s just like having shooters on the floor,” Holmgren said after the win. “If you can space the floor horizontally, it’s the same way spacing the floor vertically. They have to respect it, and it kind of opens things up for our guards. And if they don’t respect it, then obviously the lobs and drop-offs will work.”
Central Michigan opened the season with losses to Missouri and DePaul before edging Eastern Illinois 62-61 last Monday.
The Chippewas looked on their way to a third straight setback when they fell behind by 20 points, but they rallied to win on a buzzer-beating basket by Jermaine Jackson Jr.
“The team needed to feel a little success,” first-year Central Michigan coach Tony Barbee said after the victory. “That win now kind of takes the pressure off.
“I always say this: You want to learn from close wins; you don’t want the moral victories. Let’s learn from putting W’s on the board.”
Jackson and Cameron Healy each scored 14 points against Eastern Illinois. Healy made 4 of 6 from 3-point range.
Jackson is the lone player scoring in double digits for the Chippewas. He is averaging 14.3 points and 4.3 assists and has knocked down 9 of 20 3-point attempts.
Most importantly, Barbee is hoping the big comeback victory will spark his team.
“I talk to the guys about not letting what’s happening on the offensive end of the floor dictate your fight,” Barbee said. “There’s nothing that controls that but you. I thought we had a chance to hang our heads and go away and they fought their tails off.”
The two schools are meeting for the first time.
–Field Level Media