LAS VEGAS — Drew Timme and Jaime Jaquez Jr. grew up in different states, yet often came across each other at AAU tournaments, sometimes as roommates.
The two fancy-footworking forwards with fantastic facial hair will be reunited Thursday night in the desert, when Gonzaga meets UCLA in the NCAA Tournament’s West Region semifinals.
“We’ve just kind of grown up at the end of our careers together and just to kind of see him from afar, it’s awesome to see,” Timme said Wednesday.
Since those early high school days, Timme and Jaquez have become the focal points for the West’s two powerhouse programs.
The 6-foot-11 Timme has been one of the nation’s best big men during his time in Spokane, Washington, leading the Zags to four of their eight straight Sweet 16 appearances, including the 2021 national title game.
Timme’s impeccable footwork, multitude of up-fakes, soft touch and basketball smarts have made him a near-impossible matchup for opposing defenses. He’s Gonzaga’s all-time leading scorer and was named to the Associated Press All-America second team for the third straight season after averaging 21.1 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.
Timme also has a knack for taking over in big games, like he did last week by scoring 28 points in Gonzaga’s second-round win over TCU.
“It’s great to see him and all the success he’s had there,” Jaquez said. “I credit that to all the hard work that he’s put in. And it was very cool to have full-circle moments like that in life.”
Jaquez has had a similar impact — and game — at UCLA.
The 6-7 swingman has balanced and nimble footwork similar to Timme’s, loves to throw multiple up-fakes in the post and always seems to make the smart play. He’s been a part of UCLA’s three straight Sweet 16 trips, including the 2021 Final Four, and was a second-team AP All-American after averaging 17.5 points and 8.1 rebounds this season.
“He’s super talented,” Timme said. “He can score at all three levels. He does everything for them, but he’s just a hard, smart guy. He’s always playing his tail off and working.”
Timme and the Zags won the last two meetings, in Las Vegas in 2021 and on Jalen Suggs’ buzzer-beating 3-pointer in the Final Four the year before.
As for the facial hair, that seems to be a draw.
Jaquez has stuck with the pirate-looking goatee throughout his career, while Timme has brought back the bristly mustache his mom once hated.
A key for Arkansas’ bid to beat UConn in the Sweet 16 will be keeping the Huskies off the glass.
UConn was one of the nation’s best rebounding teams during the regular season, averaging eight more per game than its opponents. The Huskies have been just as dominant so far in the NCAA Tournament, grabbing 16 more rebounds than Iona and nine more than Saint Mary’s.
“A lot of teams will send three to the glass and two back, but they, almost every possession they’re sending four to the glass,” Arkansas coach Eric Musselman said. “So we’ve got to do a good job defensive rebounding, and then we’ll see how that affects our transition offense as well.”
Musselman attracted national attention by taking off his shirt when the Razorbacks eliminated defending national champion Kansas on Saturday.
It’s not new — he was doing that after big victories in his previous stop at Nevada.
“I guess my emotions got the best of me,” Musselman said. “My wife’s not always happy about that. But it’s not something that we plan on doing all the time. It’s just kind of, emotions run through you.”
Razorbacks forward Kamani Johnson said seeing his coach with his shirt off is a good thing.
“I always say a happy Muss is a happy us,” he said.
Johnson said the Musselman on the TV screen is the same one in person no matter the time of day.
“If you haven’t met him, you probably would be scared because you don’t know how he’s going to come at you,” Arkansas guard Davonte Davis said. “You never know. But it’s fun and it’s exciting. This journey has been really exciting with him.”
BACK AT HOME
For Gonzaga junior guard Julian Strawther, the trip to Las Vegas is a homecoming. He played at Liberty High School in the suburb of Henderson and became a top-100 prospect.
“It’s kind of like a full-circle moment,” said Strawther, who averages 15.3 points and 6.1 rebounds. “It’s always a dream playing in March Madness, and not too many people get the luxury of playing in their hometown, especially in a regional final. It’s huge for me, it’s huge for my family and it’s huge for everybody that I know.”
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