Gonzaga has been the best program in college basketball over the last seven years, its record a ridiculous 223–24 since the start of the 2016–17 season. But once again, the Bulldogs have missed out on the ultimate prize in the NCAA tournament, blown out Saturday by 28 points against UConn to end the career of star big man Drew Timme and leave the program still without a national championship. The Huskies, winners by double digits in their first three NCAA tournament games, outclassed Gonzaga Saturday, leading by as many as 33 and trailing for less than a minute of the 40-minute game.
The Bulldogs hung around early, but couldn’t withstand the early second-half blitz that has become UConn’s M.O. this tournament. In four games, the Huskies have outscored opponents by 37 points in the first five minutes of the second half, and Saturday, they extended a seven-point halftime edge to 19 in that stretch. Timme’s fourth foul was a defining moment in that run, a questionable whistle away from the play on a rebound that came with 17:39 to go and the Huskies threatening to pull away. With Timme sidelined, the game got away quickly, and with it went another chance at breaking through that championship glass ceiling.
Timme’s final moment in his storied career came with just under two minutes to play, when Few subbed him out for the final time. The coach and his star’s relationship often resembled a buddy-cop movie: Few the quiet, strict leader who worked to get the most out of his sometimes-goofy star, Timme the jokester who tried to soften up his coach. Few lovingly nicknamed Timme the team’s “Union Rep” the last two years, poking fun at Timme’s requests to shorten practice or lighten up on drills, though that nickname is certainly an upgrade from his previous one freshman year: “Dumbass”. The hug the two shared as he left the game for a final time seemed interminable, then Timme worked his way down the bench to share an embrace with every teammate and staff member. And after the buzzer sounded, Timme brought the team’s players together to leave them with parting words before they could head down the tunnel. His message?
“[I] just told them we had a hell of a year. I was proud of them. I loved them. Wouldn’t want to do this journey with anyone else,” Timme said.
Timme’s lack of a national title shouldn’t spoil his legacy as a truly great March player. His 10 NCAA tournament games with 20 or more points are the most all-time, including heroic performances like his 36 points against UCLA Thursday. He achieved that despite the NCAA tournament being canceled his freshman year. In an era of records being smashed because of players using their extra year of eligibility, Timme rewrote the record books in Spokane and nationally in the normal four years and isn’t using his fifth.
“I think he’s one of the greatest college players in this modern era,” Few said. “It was a hell of a good time walking out on the practice floor with him every time or hopping on a jet. And I’m sure going to have a lot of good times moving forward.”
Timme also leaves a legacy as one of the great personalities college basketball has seen in a long time, from his widely-publicized mustache to his always-entertaining quotes. College basketball needs stars like Timme: recognizable faces staying for four years, leaving a tangible impact on their program and showing off a personality fans can embrace or hate. Gonzaga, a place known for letting its stars be stars, and Timme was a perfect marriage, even without a championship ending.
“The place took me for who I was. They didn't ask me to be anybody but myself,” Timme said. “I'm forever in debt for Gonzaga, just the love I have for just everyone that helped me and made this journey so special and so fun. I just don't think I could ever repay that.”
In the backdrop of Timme’s career coming to a close is a looming question: Has Gonzaga’s national title window of opportunity officially been shut? The talent gap in this game was evident, as it was in other matchups with elite teams this season. While Gonzaga will surely make a transfer portal splash or two, its roster next year doesn’t look elite on paper. With former top recruiter Tommy Lloyd now the head coach at Arizona and NIL’s influence on recruiting only growing, it’s far from a guarantee the Bulldogs will ever have another Chet Holmgren or Jalen Suggs-level talent. It also may never have another Timme, the program’s all-time leading scorer and a clutch NCAA tournament performer.
That’s not to say Gonzaga won’t have consistently excellent teams; as long as Few is on the sideline in Spokane, the Bulldogs will remain a perennial power. He’s one of the sport’s best coaches, Gonzaga has been one of the nation’s best at player development and the brand is strong enough at this point to continue to attract talent. But that elusive national championship? If it didn’t happen after reaching the title game in 2017 or ‘21, didn’t happen in ‘22 with Holmgren, Timme and an elite point guard in Andrew Nembhard, and didn’t happen with a senior Timme in a blown-up bracket, is it ever going to happen?
Don’t mistake this era as a failure. Yes—Gonzaga fell short of its ultimate goal of bringing a championship to the small school in Spokane. That’s the brutality of this single-elimination competition: KenPom’s metrics say Gonzaga had the best or second-best team in the nation in five of the last seven years and finished in the top 10 in all seven of those seasons, but the Zags come away from that run banner-less. Sometimes they were the victim of misfortune, like the tight game against North Carolina it lost for the 2017 title. Sometimes they were just outmatched, like they were against Baylor in ‘21 and against UConn Saturday.
Gonzaga has accomplished everything but winning it all. After years as a true contender with no breakthrough, it’s hard to feel confident that title is ever coming. The door may have closed Saturday not just on Timme’s career, but on a remarkable stretch of dominance that will forever be marked for coming up short.