No. 2 Gonzaga, No. 4 Kentucky engage in high-stakes showdown

No. 2 Gonzaga, No. 4 Kentucky engage in high-stakes showdown

Instead of battling unbeaten, a top-flight team will lose a second time this season when No. 4 Kentucky visits No. 2 Gonzaga on Sunday night in Spokane, Wash.

The Wildcats (3-1) have an 86-77 loss in double overtime to Michigan State, while the Bulldogs (2-1) were routed 93-74 by No. 11 Texas in Austin on Wednesday.

In Sunday’s game, Oscar Tshiebwe, last year’s Kentucky National Player of the Year, meets fellow Zags compatriot Drew Timme from last season.

The game will be played in the Spokane Arena — which seats more than 12,000 — rather than Gonzaga’s highly wild on-campus “kennel.”

Regardless of the venue, Gonzaga will be looking to improve his ball handling as he conceded 20 turnovers that resulted in 27 Texas points in the one-sided loss.

“We need to get a better game out of every player,” said Bulldogs coach Mark Few. “I don’t know if I would just say guards. Together we have to take better care of the ball. If you look at the stats, it’s a lot of our veterans with a lot of turnovers. It starts with that. We can’t function on offense , if we flip the ball like this.

Timme recorded 18 points and nine rebounds against the Longhorns but committed five of the turnovers. Julian Strawther and Nolan Hickman each had four.

Hickman, a point guard, suffered an ankle injury late in the loss to Texas and his status is unclear as of Sunday.

Kentucky rebounded from Tuesday’s marathon loss to Michigan State with a 106-63 shellacking in Thursday’s visit to South Carolina State.

Wildcats coach John Calipari is aware his club will have a long journey to meet up with an angry group of Bulldogs.

“It’s going to be a big challenge,” Calipari said. “It’s going to be a tough game in Spokane. …And I love that it’s on an NFL Sunday. Perfect. Let’s go.”

Freshman Chris Livingston, who scored 13 points against South Carolina State, expects Gonzaga to be motivated to recover from his loss.

“If any top team suffers a loss like that, they will bounce back,” said Livingston. “They will come with power and they will come with fight. You won’t just lie down.

“So we just have to come out, understand who we are, face the competition and play at the level that Gonzaga will play at, because they’re definitely going to come out, high energy, locked in and ready to play.”

Tshiebwe missed Kentucky’s first two games after knee surgery and then had 22 points and 18 rebounds in 34 minutes before fouling the Spartans. Two nights later, he played just 14 minutes against South Carolina State and had six points and seven rebounds.

Timme averages 20.7 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 60.5 percent from the field. He made 33 total shots in Gonzaga’s first two games, but could only put down 10 (making seven) against the Texas defense.

“I thought he found his shots and all that,” Few said. “They do a good job of doubling the ball when they can. We’ve taken advantage of that a couple of times. I think he would even tell you that he got the shots he wanted.

“He’s been seeing this coverage for quite a while. They are athletic, tall and have a lot of people to send on him.”

Kentucky won the only previous meeting, 80-72 in the third-place playoff of the 2003 Maui Invitational.

– Field level media

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