Instead of a battle of unbeatens, a high-profile team will deal with losing a second time this season when No. 4 Kentucky visits No. 2 Gonzaga on Sunday evening at Spokane, Wash.
The Wildcats (3-1) have an 86-77 double-overtime loss to Michigan State on the ledger while the Bulldogs (2-1) were routed 93-74 by No. 11 Texas on Wednesday in Austin.
Sunday’s game pits last year’s national player of the year in Kentucky big man Oscar Tshiebwe against fellow preseason All-American Drew Timme of the Zags.
The game will be played at the Spokane Arena — which seats more than 12,000 — rather than Gonzaga’s on-campus highly rambunctious “Kennel.”
No matter the venue, Gonzaga will be looking to shore up its ball-handling as it allowed 20 turnovers leading to 27 Texas points in the one-sided loss.
“We have to get better play out of everybody going forward,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “I don’t know that I’d say just guards. Collectively, we’ve got to take better care of the ball. Looking at the stat sheet, it’s a lot of our veterans with a lot of the turnovers. It starts with that. We can’t function on offense when we turn the ball over like that.”
Timme recorded 18 points and nine rebounds versus the Longhorns but committed five of the turnovers. Julian Strawther and Nolan Hickman had four apiece.
Hickman, a point guard, sustained an ankle injury late in the loss to Texas and his status is unclear for Sunday.
Kentucky rebounded from its marathon loss against Michigan State on Tuesday with a 106-63 shellacking of visiting South Carolina State on Thursday.
Wildcats coach John Calipari is aware his club will be traveling a long distance to meet up with an angry group of Bulldogs.
“It’s going to be a great challenge,” Calipari said. “It will be a hard game in Spokane. … And I love it’s on an NFL Sunday. Perfect. Let’s go.”
Freshman Chris Livingston, who scored 13 points against South Carolina State, expects Gonzaga to be motivated to rebound from its beating.
“When any top team takes a loss like that, they’re going to bounce back,” Livingston said. “They’re going to come with energy and they’re going to come with fight. They’re not just going to lay down.
“So we’ve just got to come out, understand who we are, play up to the competition and play up to the level that Gonzaga is going to play with, because they’re definitely going to come out, high energy, locked in and ready to play.”
Tshiebwe missed Kentucky’s first two games after undergoing knee surgery and then had 22 points and 18 rebounds in 34 minutes before fouling out against the Spartans. Two nights later, he played just 14 minutes against South Carolina State and had six points and seven rebounds.
Timme is averaging 20.7 points and 8.0 rebounds while shooting 60.5 percent from the field. He took 33 total shots in Gonzaga’s first two games but was only able to get off 10 (making seven) against the Texas defense.
“I thought he found his shots and all that,” Few said. “They do a good job of doubling the ball when they can. We exploited that a couple times. I think he’d even tell you he got the shots he wanted.
“He’s been seeing that coverage for quite a while. They’re athletic, long and have a lot of guys they can send at him.”
Kentucky won the only previous meeting, 80-72 in the third-place game of the 2003 Maui Invitational.
–Field Level Media