A disappointing loss for No. 2 Gonzaga at No. 11 Texas on Wednesday had the potential to be far more devastating considering both Nolan Hickman and Julian Strawther left the Lone Star State with ankle injuries.
Strawthers was only released after the Bulldogs defeated No. 4 had beaten Kentucky.
The admission came after a question about Hickman’s status on the air before he returned to the starting lineup on Wednesday.
“Julian was down too,” Few said. “So these guys pulled it off and showed a lot of guts and a lot of heart and tenacity and put it all out there tonight.”
Hickman was unable to contain Longhorn’s excitement after colliding with Texas guard Sir’Jabari Rice and kicking awkwardly.
After Wednesday, there were real doubts about his Sunday availability when Bulldog head trainer Mark Few said his ankle was “pretty bruised” and “it’s not looking good”.
But both injuries responded to treatment in recent days and that allowed the two to both start and finish the game while also being instrumental parts in the Bulldogs’ controlling win over the Wildcats.
Strawther was down to within nine seconds to end the first half, while Hickman’s 28-minute floor time was only minimized by his fourth foul at 9:57 in the second half, which sent him to an early bench press.
Strawther scored the first point after Kentucky reduced GU’s lead to four with seven minutes left.
“And then I also thought that our reaction in the second half after they made their run was a very, very good sign that we’re moving forward,” Few said.
The junior wing was also responsible for putting the Bulldogs to their biggest second-half lead – 13 points – outside the last minute – with a dagger 3-ball with 4:42 left.
But it was the combination of Hickman and Strawther that were the most effective bulldogs that night.
While Rasir Bolton led the Zags with 24 points, it was Hickman’s plus/minus of plus-25 and Strawther’s plus-16 that made the roster pace.
The plus/minus statistic shows a team’s total point difference when a player is on the court versus a player who is on the bench. It’s a fundamental approach to an important conclusion.
Hickman was much more comfortable on the surface in terms of the pace and physicality of that game.
Against Texas, Hickman had a net zero plus/minus.
The Seattle sophomore finished the tournament with four points and two steals, but he was instrumental in slowing outside shots from CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves, who scored 3-of-14 from 3-point range.
He also did a better job protecting the basketball by coughing it up twice.
For Strawther, on the other hand, his traditional stats also showed up on the stat sheet.
He finished the game with a team-high 14 rebounds and went 7-for-7 off the free throw line. His charity stripe conquest was part of a team-wide effort.
“Listen I mean when we went 19-21 we just talked in the locker room, at the free throw line, I mean we didn’t do that in those games,” Few said.
Strawther was effective from long range – going 3-for-4 from behind the arc – and timing his attack on the perimeter, putting the Wildcats in terrible trouble and ending the game on contact.
His 14 boards were one short of All-American Oscar Tshiebwe’s 15, but it helped the Zags dominate the glass with 39 rebounds to KU’s 29.
“To be honest, the way we recovered, I didn’t know we could hang on the glass with them,” Few said. “And I was very pleased that I think we did a great job on the glass, especially after the first half.”