There were a couple of moments for Gopher men’s basketball fans to get excited about Both Gach just before his debut game Wednesday. One went almost completely unseen, and the other could only be heard.
Gach, a 6-foot-5 guard from Austin, Minn., had a windmill dunk during pregame warmups before the 99-69 victory over Wisconsin-Green Bay inside Williams Arena that was mostly empty due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Meanwhile on the KTLK-AM pregame show, head coach Richard Pitino called Gach, “probably the fastest guard in the Big Ten.”
Then in his Minnesota homecoming, Gach totaled 14 points, five rebounds, one steal and four assists along with four turnovers. He was 4 for 7 shooting from the field, 0 for 2 from 3-point range and 6 for 6 from the free-throw line.
“It meant a lot to me, being back home, being able to play for the Gophers, playing in front of my home state,” Gach said. “It was really exciting for me, knowing I’m from here and played high school basketball games here.”
Gach will make a second impression in the first of two consecutive games against Loyola Marymount at 5 p.m. Saturday at The Barn. The teams will play again at 7 p.m. Monday at Williams Arena.
When Gach decided to transfer from Utah after last season, the appeal of coming home was strong, but there was also opportunity at Minnesota. The Gophers lost Amir Coffey after the 2018-19 season and haven’t had a wing player able to consistently create his own shot since.
Gophers points guard Marcus Carr can create and did with a career-high-tying 35 points against Green Bay. But he can see the threat Gach provides, including in preseason practices.
“Both is a great athlete,” Carr said. “He’s able to run the floor, get out, make athletic plays and make athletic plays on the defensive end as well, get in passing lanes, stuff like that. Both is definitely a great addition to our team. He gives us another person that can really attack the rim, put pressure on the defense, get to the free-throw line. Yeah, I love playing with Both.”
Pitino included Nate Mason and Dupree McBrayer as other multi-positional players for the Gophers in recent years. And in the opener, Pitino pointed out Gach played all three guard spots.
“We certainly look to do that with him,” Pitino said. “The appeal of coming home in the middle of the pandemic can’t be understated, but I just think he fits. He’s got length, can defend, can create steals and get out on the break. He was a prototypical guy who has been in our system and has been pretty successful.”
Fellow transfer Brandon Johnson, a forward, said Zach can be like a Swiss Army knife.
“At Western Michigan, we didn’t come across many guys like Both,” Johnson said. “In practice, sometimes it’s a challenge because sometimes he will get switched out for me. I try to work him down in the post and everything, but he can hold his own pretty much anywhere on the floor.”
And on the speed, another transfer, Liam Robbins, has struggled to keep up with Gach’s versatility.
“He is one of the fastest guys coming off a ball screen that I’ve played against,” the Drake transfer said. “In practice, that is really good for me personally because it challenges me to have to move my feet and understand how to guard that and prevent him from getting to the rim. I’m not always successful, but it’s a good challenge to constantly get those reps in.”
Against Green Bay, Gach got to the rim for a dunk and was disruptive in passing lanes, but he did feel something was amiss during his first game as a Gopher.
“To be out there without any fans, it just felt like a scrimmage, a kind of practice-type deal, but it’s actually a game. And at the same time, you are trying to knock that stuff off your head and just try to play your game,” Gach said. “Fans make a huge difference out there, they really do.”