Kentucky vs. Gonzaga score, takeaways: No. 2 Zags bounce back in a big way with rout of No. 4 Wildcats

No. 2 Gonzaga delivered a haymaker in the first half of its showdown with No. 4 Kentucky on Sunday and then held on late for a 88-72 victory in the first meeting between the powers in 20 years. A packed house at the off-campus Spokane Arena helped spur the Zags to a 41-25 halftime lead as the trio of Rasir Bolton, Julian Strawther and Drew Timme fueled a huge early-season win for Gonzaga.

Kentucky star center Oscar Tshiebwe countered with 20 points and 15 rebounds and helped the Wildcats close within five points on multiple occasions in the second half. But in a battle of potential national player of the year candidates, Timme came out on top. The senior forward scored 22 points and avoided the foul trouble which plagued Tshiebwe for much of the game.

Both teams needed a win after suffering losses in marquee matchups over the past week. The Bulldogs lost 93-74 at No. 12 Texas on Wednesday while Kentucky dropped an 86-77 double-overtime thriller to Michigan State on Tuesday. The Wildcats play North Florida and Bellarmine to close out November before taking on Michigan in London on Dec. 4 in what will mark their third chance to notch a marquee win this season.

Gonzaga heads to the Phil Knight Legacy event this week as one of the headliners in a stacked field. The Bulldogs will play either Purdue or West Virginia in their second-round game as part of what may arguably be the nation's toughest nonconference slate. 

While the Bulldogs may drop in the new AP poll because of their loss at Texas, they looked every bit the part of a national contender on Sunday while shooting 56% from the floor and withstanding a valiant rally from a Kentucky squad loaded with talent.

Gonzaga's Bolton answers the bell

Kentucky shot 0 for 10 from 3-point range in the first half, but the Wildcats hit 6 of 15 tries from beyond the arc in the second half and used stingy defense to get back in the game. If the Zags were going to hold on, they needed some help from their guards. Bolton delivered in a big way as the senior scored 19 of his game-high 24 points in the second half and had 10 of the Bulldogs' final 12.

Timme is obviously Gonzaga's star, and Strawther is a quality sidekick on the wing, but the Bulldogs' pecking order in the backcourt was a point of uncertainty entering the season. With sophomores Nolan Hickman and Hunter Sallis taking on larger roles and Malachi Smith entering as transfer from Chattanooga, the Zags have plenty of depth at the position but no clear focal point. It could depend on the opponent and the night who stars for the Zags in the backcourt, but Bolton's offensive explosion against a quality opponent is strong evidence he can be an alpha guard.

Zags' Strawther looking like an NBA Draft pick

Strawther faced a decision after averaging 11.6 points and 5.4 rebounds as a sophomore last season. Should the versatile 6-foot-7 wing head to the professional ranks or return for another season at Gonzaga? Early on, it looks like he made the right choice. With NBA scouts surely paying attention in a game crawling with NBA prospects, Strawther stood out.

In particular, Strawther's ability to score at all three levels offensively has been on display this season. Against the Wildcats, he hit 3 of 4 attempts from 3-point range, showed his mid-range stroke and hit 7 of 7 free throws while having success around the rim. Though Strawther committed five turnovers, that was partially the byproduct of the fact that he played all 40 minutes.

Strawther is a matchup problem for many opponents and has the type of frame and game that is attractive in the modern NBA. That will serve him well in the years to come. But for now, Gonzaga fans should be thrilled with his decision to return, because he looks like the type of player who can help the Bulldogs make another deep NCAA Tournament run.

Kentucky's Wallace blossoms 

Speaking of NBA Draft prospects, Kentucky's tandem of Cason Wallace and Jacob Toppin looked the part in the second half. After combining to shoot 2 of 9 from the floor in the first half, the duo scored 12 points each in the second half to combine for 24 of the Wildcats' 47 points after halftime. Toppin never found his outside stroke, which will be pivotal to his NBA future, but Wallace did while flashing the two-way chops that made him 247Sports' No. 5 overall prospect in the Class of 2022.

Wallace finished with 14 points on 5 of 9 shooting and had four steals after collecting eight steals against Michigan State on Tuesday. In total, the 6-4 Wallace is averaging 3.4 steals and shooting 53.3% from 3-point range five games into his college career. Kentucky's 3-2 start may not be what Wildcats fans envisioned, but Wallace's play should be considered a silver lining to the season's first five games.

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Zags get it done

The loss at Texas on Wednesday wasn't pretty but a 2-1 mark against the trio of Michigan State, Texas and Kentucky isn't bad for Gonzaga. This was by the far the best the Bulldogs looked against any of those three as they came out swinging in the first half and then weathered Kentucky's rally for a somewhat convincing win. Rasir Bolton scored 19 of his 24 points in the second half and Gonzgag shot 56% from the floor. Impressive stuff. These guys may drop from No. 2 because of the Texas loss, but the performance today validates Gonzaga's standing as a national contender.

November 21, 2022, 2:48 AM
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@ZagMBB via Twitter
November 21, 2022, 3:05 AM
@KentuckyMBB via Twitter
November 21, 2022, 2:35 AM

Good second half

This second half has been compelling theater with both teams looking pretty locked in — more so than you might expect at this stage in the season. Kentucky will rue its first half unless it can stage a big rally here in the closing minutes. But all is not lost for the Wildcats after they got their act together and played much better after halftime.

November 21, 2022, 2:30 AM

Gonzaga in control

Drew Timme is winning the NPOTY showdown vs. Oscar Tshiebwe at the moment. Timme is up to 21 points and has been clutch in the second half. Rasir Bolton is quietly up to 12 for the Bulldogs as well. Oscar is going to have to go a long way with four fouls for Kentucky to have a chance here.

November 21, 2022, 2:25 AM
@ZagMBB via Twitter
November 21, 2022, 2:20 AM

Foul trouble

Don't think playing true freshman center Ugonna Onyenso was part of the plan for Kentucky today. But he's in the game with Ware and Tshiebwe both sidelined with four fouls. Drew Timme is feasting without Oscar in the game. While Onyenso has a bright future as a rim protector, this is a brutal matchup to enter in this moment cold off the bench.

November 21, 2022, 2:19 AM

Second half reset

What sticks out more than anything as Kentucky has outscored Gonzaga 20-10 in the second half is that the Wildcats have attempted 19 shots compared to just 9 for Gonzaga. Zags have to start taking care of the basketball, because they are still making shots when they can get them. But you can't score if you turn it over before shooting. Cason Wallace has three steals for UK.

November 21, 2022, 2:14 AM

Back to the bench

Oscar Tshiebwe is back on the bench with FOUR fouls with a lot of time left in this game. The Wildcats are heating up and making this a game, but that's not going to help their case.

November 21, 2022, 2:11 AM

Few not happy

Oscar didn't stay off the floor long and his dunk cuts it to single digits. Gonzaga takes a timeout to regroup as it has been outscored 7-0 in points off turnovers so far in this second half.

November 21, 2022, 2:07 AM
@KentuckyMBB via Twitter
November 21, 2022, 2:07 AM

Wildcats show life

Fredrick finally made Kentucky's first 3-pointer of the game and the Wildcats have forced three Gonzaga turnovers early in the second half while shaving four points off the first half deficit. Long way to go, but UK isn't laying down after trailing by 16 at halftime in a hostile environment. 

November 21, 2022, 2:01 AM

Oscar's third

Just as Kentucky generated a little momentum to begin the second half, Oscar Tshiebwe picks up his third foul and heads to the bench. He's got 16 and 10, so navigating this stretch without him is going to be a challenge for the Cats.

November 21, 2022, 1:58 AM

Here we go 

About to get underway in Spokane with the second half of a game that Gonzaga has absolutely dominated so far. Kentucky is going to need to hit some outside shots to get back in this game. CJ Fredrick and Antonio Reeves are supposed to supply some of that for UK, but they are cold tonight.

November 21, 2022, 1:52 AM

Wildcats looking rough

Credit Gonzaga for coming out with a ton of energy and a sense of purpose — looking like an entirely different team than the one that was smacked at Texas on Wednesday. But more than anything, this is a rough look for Kentucky, which is 0 for 10 from deep. CJ Fredrick has been MIA and Oscar has been the only steady threat.

November 21, 2022, 1:38 AM
@KentuckyMBB via Twitter
November 21, 2022, 1:35 AM

Cats struggling

The Cats reach the U4 timeout down 14 against a Gonzaga team that is shooting 57.7% from the floor. Strawther is one rebound away from a double-double. Wildcats 0 for 8 from deep and not looking in sync defensively. Spokane Arena feels like a nice home-court advantage as well. Much was made about this game not being played at the Kennel, but I think it's working out in Gonzaga's favor thus far.

November 21, 2022, 1:24 AM
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