Star forward Drew Timme, No. 2 Gonzaga set to face off with No. 11 Texas in Austin

Matthew Caldwell, Sports Desk Editor

No. 11 Texas men’s basketball will take on No. 2 Gonzaga in a highly-anticipated early season matchup for both squads on Wednesday at the Moody Center.

As the second leg of a home-and-home series that began in Spokane, Washington last year, the showdown will be the highest profile game yet to take place in the Longhorns’ new basketball home. Last season’s matchup ended with an 86-74 win for then-No. 1 Gonzaga.

“(There) won’t be a bigger game in college basketball than here tomorrow night,” head coach Chris Beard said on Tuesday. “A big part of that is Gonzaga, one of the most consistent programs in college basketball.”

The environment in Spokane proved to be a huge factor in the outcome last year, as Beard and multiple new faces took to the road for their second game of the season.

This time around, the Bulldogs will travel to Austin. Beard has high expectations for the Longhorns’ home-court advantage, even encouraging students to take a nap during the day to come ready to cheer on his players.

Since last year’s meeting, both teams have experienced roster turnover among key players. The Bulldogs lost forward Chet Holmgren to the 2022 NBA Draft, where he was selected second overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder. They also lost starting guard Andrew Nembhard to the draft, who went to the Indiana Pacers early in the second round.

To replace lost production, Gonzaga was active in the transfer portal this past offseason, acquiring center Efton Reid and guard Malachi Smith, both four-star transfers.

Texas lost key players in guard Andrew Jones, who used up all of his eligibility, guard Courtney Ramey, who transferred to Arizona, and forward Tre Mitchell, who transferred to West Virginia. However, Beard also went to the portal to replenish his roster.

Sophomore guard Tyrese Hunter, last season’s Big 12 Freshman of the Year, transferred to Texas from Iowa State after leading the Cyclones to the Sweet 16. Hunter was tied for first as the nation’s top transfer target. Guard Sir’Jabari Rice, a graduate transfer from New Mexico State, has seen a heavy dosage of minutes in the Longhorns’ first two games of the season.

The Longhorns were also active in the class of 2022, finishing the cycle at No. 6 in the nation. The two notable freshmen are forward Dillon Mitchell, who recorded his first double-double at the collegiate level against Houston Christian, and guard Arterio Morris, who is averaging 6.5 points per game.

Beard knows his team will have to show up if the Longhorns hope to take down the No. 2 team in the country.

“We’ll have to play our best 40 minutes of the season to this point to be successful in this game,” Beard said. “Our players understand that. That’s our goal, and we’re excited to do that.”

After top-seeded Gonzaga was bounced by No. 4-seed Arkansas in the Sweet 16 of last year’s NCAA Tournament, the Bulldogs have gotten off to a 20 start this season. Gonzaga narrowly defeated Michigan State 64-63 in the 2022 Armed Forces Classic, played aboard the USS Abraham Lincoln in San Diego on Nov. 11. Senior forward Drew Timme led the Bulldogs past the Spartans with 22 points and 13 rebounds.

“Drew is one of the best players in college basketball,” Beard said. “He can play inside and out. He does a lot of great things that even the stat sheet doesn’t show, so he’s a dynamic player. We’ll have to have multiple guys on our roster play really well to stop Drew.”

Wednesday’s marquee matchup will be both a test and a learning experience for both teams with the season still barely underway.

“We certainly understand a lot of the hype on this game revolves around the opponent,” Beard said. “To our guys though, the reality is this is one of many … We certainly have to be up to play the game, we understand that, but I think a big part of this is we can’t be too up either. This is the next game on the schedule for Texas and we’ll have to play well against one of the best teams in the country.”