DENVER — With spots in the Sweet 16 on the line, the Ball Arena crowd was treated to a pair of quality matchups featuring four established programs on Sunday night.
Starting with Baylor and Creighton in the opener and continuing with Gonzaga vs. TCU, local hoops enthusiasts were fortunate to witness some of the country’s best collegiate talent in the most exciting tournament in all of sports.
With that in mind, let’s dive into the action.
No. 3 Baylor vs. No. 6 Creighton | 85-76 (Creighton)
It was a clash of styles in the first matchup.
Creighton whipped the ball around the perimeter, using quick passes and a ton of movement to create open looks from beyond the arc. Unlike in their game against NC State on Friday though, the Bluejays knocked down just about everything early in this one.
Creighton shot 50% from the floor and 44% from deep as a team over the first 20 minutes. What’s more, Greg McDermott’s squad assisted on three out of every four baskets made, as the Bluejays really put on an excellent display of team basketball.
Baylor struggled to keep up with Creighton’s red-hot shooting, which is a big reason why the Bears took a 10 point deficit into the break (39-29). Scott Drew’s team made just two of its 15 3-point attempts in the first half (13%). So despite establishing a strong presence in the post — the Bears held an 18-6 advantage in points scored in the paint over the first 20 minutes — the disparity in 3-point shooting proved to be a major factor.
Unlike Creighton, who mostly did most of its damage via the jump shot, Baylor’s offensive success was largely dependent on being able to drive and penetrate the defense. Their athletic guards used their strength and quickness to work their way inside. And to their credit, it was a strategy that worked pretty well for them, especially since the jump shots were not consistently falling for anyone.
While the Bears never went away easily, ultimately Creighton’s offensive execution proved to be too much to overcome. Every time that Baylor would make any type of run, it just seemed like someone in blue would immediately respond with a big shot on the other end. Even when the Bears would defend well, Ryan Nembhard would step up and nail a big-time shot with a defender in his face. It was just one of those nights where everything seemed to go right for the Bluejays.
Creighton shot 47% from the floor as a team, 46% from deep, and they knocked down all 22 free throw attempts in the win. Of the 29 shots that they made on Sunday, 14 were off of assists. Baylor, conversely, shot 46% from the floor and finished +20 in the paint. Unfortunately for the Baylor faithful though, going 5-of-22 from deep was not a recipe for success against a team with as much firepower as Creighton.
After Baylor tied the game at 12 apiece at the 15:38 mark of the first half, Creighton used an 8-0 run to go up 20-12 roughly three minutes later.
From that point forward, the Bluejays never trailed again and were firmly in control of the matchup.
Ryan Nembhard put on a show Sunday night. The 2022 Big East Freshman of the Year was lethal from the floor, finishing with 30 points on 8-of-11 shooting. His performance from beyond the arc was especially impressive, as he shot 67% from 3-point range.
Despite coming up short, Baylor guard LJ Cryer had a big scoring night as well. Cryer led the Bears with 30 points on 13-of-22 shooting, including four threes (4-of-11). The rest of the squad combined to finish 1-of-11 from deep.
No. 3 Gonzaga vs. No. 6 TCU | 84-81 (Gonzaga)
Drew Timme has been one of the best college basketball players in the country for what feels like the last decade. With a spot in the Sweet 16 on the line, the senior forward proved why his experience is so valuable, as well as why he was a preseason All-American selection.
From the opening tip, Timme was a force down low. Rocking a white headband and showing off his signature mustache, the versatile hoopster displayed elite footwork and patiently worked his way around the bigger, more explosive defenders in the paint. Just about any time the Bulldogs needed a good look, the skilled veteran was able to deliver.
Funny enough, while the majority of his damage was done in the post, Timme’s biggest shot of the night was actually a step-back three that he cashed with 9 minutes to go. Timme came into the night with only two made threes all season and had not made one since New Year’s Eve against Pepperdine, but in one of the biggest moments of the game, with both teams going back and forth, Timme confidently sunk the shot from deep to put the Bulldogs up a pair of possessions (61-55).
When the final buzzer sounded, Timme had a game-high 28 points on 12-of-21 from the floor. He also had eight rebounds and three assists, including a nice no-look feed to Rasir Bolton for an open three early in the second half.
While Timme was a machine for the Bulldogs in this one, it was not always smooth sailing on the offensive end. Gonzaga moved the ball well from the get-go but really struggled to make open looks early on. The Bulldogs shot just 36% from the floor and an abysmal 14% from 3-point range over the first 20 minutes.
Despite not executing to their potential, Gonzaga was able to score enough in the paint to hang around, and as a result, the Bulldogs only ended up taking a 38-33 deficit into halftime.
For TCU, who out-played the higher-seeded Bulldogs in the first half, failing to build a bigger lead before the break was a big deal. After playing bully ball in the opening minutes, eventually TCU struggled to get the same quality looks at the rim, as Gonzaga’s defense was able to adjust to their relentless pressure.
After trailing by as much as 5 in the second half, the Bulldogs, sparked by Timme, used a 13-0 run to go up 8 with 8:38 remaining.
While the Horned Frogs would refuse to go down without a fight, Gonzaga was able to hold the lead from here.
Mike Miles Jr. was phenomenal for TCU once again, finishing with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting from the floor.
As terrific as the superstar guard out of the Big-12 was though, this was the type of performance from Timme that Gonzaga fans will reminisce about for years to come. He was absolutely dominant down the stretch.
Without a doubt, Timme was the MVP.