Sweet 16 Thursday Recap: Nowell and Timme put on a show for the ages

Mar 24, 2023 - 5:22 AM
NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament West Regional-Arkansas vs UCONN
Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

No. 8 Arkansas was expected to put up some fierce resistance against the No. 4 UConn Huskies — both teams thrive off of high energy guard play, and playing at a frenetic pace, even when they’re not playing “tempo” ball per se. Controlled chaos, in other words.

Well, at least UConn got the memo.

Arkansas was simply pitiful in this game for the better part of 30-35 minutes. Defenders standing around, awful transition game on both ends, non-effort on the glass. The Hogs never even got off the bus, and were down almost 30 points after 25 minutes. They did have a 5-6 minute stretch where they had the sloppy Huskies on their heels, but once UConn got the ball over the half-court line, they started laying it on Arkansas again.

The Hogs were already facing a talent deficit, and were deserved underdogs, but UConn wasn’t even challenged here. A 10-point sort of win ballooned to 20 for the better part of the contest.

Farewell to the dumbest team in the tourney.

This was a complete failure of coaching.

If I told you the best game of the day was also the first one, would you believe me? No. 7 Michigan State’s ride ended when they ran into the best guard in the Tournament. No. 3 Kansas State’s Markquis Nowell is him. That guy hit three fall-away jumpers in the close of the Kentucky game to steal a late win with 27 and 9...and somehow, he was even better tonight. Nowell “just” had 19, but it was his court vision and distribution that won this game for the Wildcats. He set an NCAA tourney record with 19 assists.

A soft MSU interior looked helpless with all of the backout passes Nowell was dishing. We had seen USC do that in the first round, and Jerome Tang got the memo and exploited it again. Despite Hauser thriving on offense, he was flat-footed all night on defense trying to stop it. This game was so good it went into overtime...and it was even tied in OT with just 54 seconds left before Nowell iced it. Best game of the night and one of the 3-4 best of the tourney.

I can’t believe this guy was slumming it at UA-Little Rock last year.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament East Regional-Michigan State vs Kansas State Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

I told you today that I had no idea why people were writing off No. 9 FAU. The Owls are a physical, big team for a tempo squad. The dirty secret is that for all of the offensive accolades, FAU can also play some defense. Then again, so does their one-trick pony opponent, the No. 4 Tennessee Volunteers.

And for a half, it looked like the Vawls rugby-on-parquet style would prevail. They took a 27-22 lead into the locker room of a game that was physically painful to watch. They had harassed the Owls into 9 first-half TOs, and limited them to just 3 of 17 from beyond the arc. But FAU’s defense and superior rebounding kept the game competitive, setting them up for a second half of success.

And success, they had. The Owls roll four-deep at guard, and you just knew some shots were going to start falling at some point. FAU carried over their defensive effort from the first half, shut down UT’s backcourt, continued their rebounding effort, cleaned up their passing, and finally had a few perimeter freebies fall. Sure, 30% isn’t great, but they did go 4 of 9 in the second half, outrebounded the Vols, and limited themselves to just 3 second-half turnovers.

This wasn’t an upset. The better team won. And that KSU-FAU game is going to be must-see television if you love backcourt play.

No. 2 UCLA was a trendy pick for the Final Four, perhaps even the natty. And why not? Analytics loved them, they were sitting at 30-5. The team has three legit NBA players. And the Bruins can play tempo as well as the halfcourt.

And for a half, they had their way with a very lazy No. 3 Gonzaga team that had pulled a no-show. The guard play was terrible. The defense was worse. Outside of Drew Timme, who had been unstoppable in the first half, there was not a bright spot heading into the locker room trailing 46-33.

But that’s why you play two halves. Second half Gonzaga looked every bit the deadly team that many had predicted all season. The Zags came roaring back, limited the Bruins to just 18 points in 18 minutes, shut down the interior drives that UCLA had pounded for a half, and some other people aside from Timme decided to show up.

And the glass. My god, the glass. Gonzaga’s front court is huge. And they came up huge. With two minutes left, GU had an ungodly 47-25 lead on the glass. That’s going to make your scoring a lot easier — and it’s one of the reasons the Bulldogs lead the nation in shooting, effective FG%, rebounding, and shot quality.

The night seemed to be Timme’s. This morning, I said I don’t see that UCLA has anyone that can guard Timme. The mission for UCLA would be to not let others beat them. Smith’s big 11 off the bench, and Strawser’s double-double keyed a much more active second half. And the prescription from today was half-right. Timme did beat the Bruins. He outscored them at one point 17-15 in the second half alone. His 19 in the first half were the only reasons Gonzaga had not been ran out of the building. He was their leading scorer, their leading distributor, and their leading rebounder. As good as Nowell was tonight, somehow Timme was even better.

It was as much a meltdown by the Bruins as it was a great adjustment by Few and company. The Bruins trailed by 9 with about 90 seconds left and tried to prolong the game with fouls and free throws, as well as making some perimeter shots of their own. But it was too little, too late...even if Gonzaga never completely found an answer for Jaquez. And Jaime went off tonight in his own right (29 and 11).

Somehow though, UCLA’s prolongation strategy paid off. Two Timme misses as the stripe, then a UCLA three gave the Bruins a two-point lead with 7 seconds. Then Gonzaga came back down and Strawser hit a three of his own. With UCLA inbounding, Tyger Campbell turned it over, and Gonzaga iced the game with free throws.

The final score shows a competitive game, but it really wasn’t really — not until the last minute. It was two separate 20-minute blowouts, with an exciting final frame. We’ll remember the last two minutes, but probably not the 38 that came before. MSU-KSU was a better game, but the final 14 seconds here were appointment viewing.

Gonzaga’s second half blowout — and leveraging their size advantage — was just better than the Bruins. You can’t coach height or clutch.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament West Regional- Gonzaga vs UCLA Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

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