Texas christened its brand new Moody Center arena on Wednesday night with a memorable win in its first major test against a ranked opponent since the venue opened earlier this year. After a career night by Tyrese Hunter that ended with 26 points, the Longhorns defeated No. 2 Gonzaga in a 93-74 beatdown, demonstrating their strengths as one of the best – and most entertaining – teams in college basketball.
Gonzaga hung around early and even led for a while in the first half, but things quickly got late for the Zags as Longhorns fans lit up the arena to help their team to a 10-point halftime lead. Texas never trailed from there, building its lead to a whopping 23 in the second half before finishing with a 19-point margin of victory. The loss was Gonzaga’s most lopsided by aggregate margin since a 23-point loss to Arizona in March 2014.
All seemed to be going well for Texas and, conversely, the wheels fell off the wagon (and then the wagon stood on cinder blocks in the middle of the intersection) for Gonzaga. Texas rained 13 3s on 33 attempts, missed a free throw late (it finished 12 of 16 from the line), and continually pressured the Zags to foul at the rim. That was the genesis of Gonzaga’s struggles: It committed 20 turnovers on the night — 11 of them came in the first half — of which Texas converted on 27 points. One turnover in particular was part of a frenetic Texas streak that nearly blew the lid off the Moody Center.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few said in the preseason that he thought his team’s non-conference schedule was the most ambitious he could remember, and Wednesday was just one example of that challenge. It came just five days after surviving a near-buzzer beater on an aircraft carrier against Michigan State and is ahead of a major November 20 game against No. 4 Kentucky.
With the win, Texas tied a program record for its highest-ranked AP opponent defeated; the last victory over a No. 2 team in the AP Top 25 was in 2009 against rival Oklahoma.
Here are a few more key takeaways from the game.
Texas is… back?
Declaring Texas back in football is old and tired, but Texas basketball may actually be back. Chris Beard didn’t have a great first season by his own standards; the team went 22-12 and went through some highs and lows. However, in Year 2, he seems to have built a crew that fits together well and fits the style he wants to play. This team can play above the rim with its athleticism, teases teams on the rim with a tough defense and has enough shot to spread out and make work. l, the loftiest prediction of all our hoop teams, and even that now feels like it was an undersell. You don’t want to be too hasty about one result, especially this early in the season, but tonight was an expectation-shattering display considering how well Texas played against such a great opponent.
Gonzaga receives a rare humiliation
Gonzaga has lost five or fewer games in each of the past six seasons and has otherwise been largely dominated by hilariously lopsided margins. In each of the past four seasons, it has led all college hoops in scoring margin. For the Zags to lose is a rarity – and to do so in a blowout fashion is even rarer. Wednesday’s loss of 19 points is their fifth-largest loss by margin since 2010, according to CBB Reference. Only four times in that span have they lost by a larger margin.
Depth a question mark for Zags
When you lose a star like Chet Holmgren and a regular guard like Andrew Nembhard, as Gonzaga did in the off-season, you’re in trouble. Period of time. However, that quickly escalated for the Zags. They lack the edge protection Holmgren provided around the paint and are prone to turnover, committing about 17 per game. That scores slightly better than 300 of the 363 Division I teams. Sophomore guard Nolan Hickman is the X Factor who must make strides this season to help the Zags reach their ceiling. They have a great 1-2 with Drew Timme and Julian Strawther, who had 18 points and 13 points respectively, but a third needs to emerge as a reliable factor for Gonzaga to really flourish.