After beating South Carolina State on Thursday, 106-63, the Kentucky Wildcats look to start a winning streak and pick up their first-ranked win of the season against the No. 2-ranked Gonzaga Bulldogs.
Both Kentucky and Gonzaga are 2-1, with losses to ranked teams. However, the Bulldogs did beat the same Michigan State team that Kentucky lost to on Tuesday.
Sunday night’s game will be the first game of the new six-year series, and the Wildcats will look to go up 2-0 in the all-time series record, with Kentucky beating the Bulldogs in their first matchup in 2002.
Entering the game with each team having struggles of their own, it will be an interesting battle. Let’s take a deeper look at things to look for on Sunday night.
Oscar Tshiebwe vs Drew Timme
Two of the best big men in the country will go head-to-head on Sunday, Oscar Tshiebwe and Drew Timme.
Tshiebwe missed the first two games of the season recovering from minor knee surgery but already looks to be close to his old form. In his season debut against Michigan State, Tshibwe put up 22 points and 18 rebounds. However, he played just 14 minutes against South Carolina State in order to rest for Sunday’s matchup.
As for Timme, he has been equally as impressive and looks to have even gotten better, averaging a career-high 20.7 points (34th in the NCAA) on 60.5 percent shooting from the field.
However, the two have played before back in 2020 when Tshiebwe was still with West Virginia. In that game, Gonzaga won in a close one 87-82, as Timme recorded 17 points and 3 rebounds, compared to Tshiebwe’s 14 points and 9 rebounds.
John Calipari has seen a similar matchup before, “It was Marcus Camby and Tim Duncan... You would have thought no one else was in the game and there were no coaches. It was one-on-one.”
Which player will get the upper hand?
Can Kentucky take advantage of Gonzaga’s guard play?
While Drew Timme will do Drew Timme things, Gonzaga does not have the guard they have had in recent seasons.
Despite four of their five leading scorers being guards, the Bulldogs do not have a true point guard. In fact, there are only three players for Gonzaga averaging more than 2 assists per game, and two of them are forwards.
With that said, Julian Strawther is the Bulldog’s clear second option, but things get cloudy behind him between Nolan Hickman, Hunter Sallis, and Malachi Smith.
Despite still looking for their balance, Sahvir Wheeler and Cason Wallace have proven to be the better guards thus far. If they can produce and play as good defense as they have, Kentucky will be in good shape.
Can Kentucky force turnovers and generate offense?
One of Gonzaga’s biggest weaknesses thus far has been their lack of ball security, as they turn the ball over as much as anyone in the country. In fact, they average 17.3 turnovers per game, ranking 324th in the country.
Just in their last two games alone against Michigan State and Texas, Gonzaga has recorded 18 and 20 turnovers, giving up an average of twenty points off turnovers. The main source for these turnovers, especially against Texas, has been defensive pressure.
With their length and size, Kentucky should be able to force Gonzaga into some turnovers, especially if they bring pressure as they have at times this season.
This would be very beneficial if the Wildcats were to struggle in the half-court offense, as their defense would provide them with some scoring opportunities and open up the floor.
Time/Date: 7:30 pm ET November 20th
Location: Spokane Arena in Spokane, Washington
TV Channel: ESPN
Announcers: Jon Sciambi and Jimmy Dykes are on the call.