For the third time this season, Gonzaga found itself trailing by double digits. This time it was Washington State that had the Bulldogs down by as many as 15 in the first half and by 12 midway through the second.
And for the third time, the Bulldogs roared back, overtaking WSU behind senior Matt Bouldin’s career-high 28 points and Elias Harris’ 21-point, nine-rebound second half for a 74-69 men’s basketball victory in front of a packed house of 6,000 Wednesday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
The 17th-ranked Bulldogs (6-1) keep talking about being tougher than recent GU teams. They offered another piece of evidence in handing the Cougars their first loss of the season.
“I think this is the grittiest team I’ve played on,” said Bouldin, who had 14 points in the first half to keep Gonzaga within striking range. “We’ve got a lot of guys that love to bang. I couldn’t say that in years’ past maybe, but it’s sort of becoming a staple for us.”
Washington State (6-1) dominated in all phases in the first half, even with a modest contribution from Klay Thompson, who entered the game as the nation’s leading scorer at 28.3 points per game. The Cougars erased a 9-7 deficit with a 19-3 burst, triggered by Marcus Capers’ tip-in and dunk.
Gonzaga was outrebounded 25-14, and 12 of the Cougars’ boards came at the offensive end.
That led to a 10-0 edge in second-chance points. Gonzaga’s nine turnovers, several on misguided post-entry passes, helped WSU to a 17-6 edge in points off turnovers.
Bouldin hit two late 3-pointers to narrow WSU’s lead to 39-27 at the break. He kept up the pace in the second half and Harris, who, along with center Robert Sacre was neutralized in the first 20 minutes, took over in the paint.
“We got probably the most courageous performance I’ve seen in this building from one of our players,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of Bouldin, who was 7 of 12 on 3-pointers. “He wasn’t getting a whole lot of help there for large stretches. And it was just a whale of a second half for Elias.”
The two combined for 35 of Gonzaga’s 47 second-half points. Bouldin had 12 points, Harris eight and reserve forward Kelly Olynyk six as GU used a 26-6 run to pull in front 72-64.
Harris gave Gonzaga the lead for good, 65-64, with a dunk on a nice feed from Grant Gibbs and Olynyk followed with a dunk on a pass from Bouldin.
“He lit us up,” WSU coach Ken Bone said of Bouldin.
Meanwhile, Steven Gray offset a rough offensive night by clamping down on Thompson, who had a season-low 15 points on 6-of-21 shooting. WSU had eight players score in the first half, but points didn’t come easy in the second half.
“We need to learn how to maintain the intensity we had in the first half,” Capers said. “If we had played like that for 40 minutes, we would have probably beaten them by 20. We didn’t. We played 32 minutes.”
Harris, much like his team, has been prone to slow starts and big finishes.
“Everyone was sleeping in the first half, dreaming,” Harris said. “First of all, I tried to rebound in the second half – that was our biggest problem in the first half. After that, they fed me in the post and I tried to attack the basket.”
For key stretches in the second half, GU had four freshmen (Harris, Olynyk, Gibbs and Manny Arop) and Bouldin on the floor.
“We had some guys that mentally we’re analyzing and not doing much,” Few said. “They were very tentative and just getting beat to balls. Those freshmen just went out and played. If they made a mistake they played through it. And through it all, the story was Matt and obviously Elias in the second half.”
Gonzaga entertains Wake Forest on Saturday while WSU visits Kansas State.
Gonzaga 74, Washington St. 69
Percentages: FG .413, FT .600. 3-Point Goals: 5-14, .357 (Thompson 0-4, Moore 1-3, Lodwick 1-2, Koprivica 0-2, Thames 3-3). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 4 (Casto 3, Lodwick). Turnovers: 15 (Casto 3, Thompson 3, Koprivica 4, Thames 2, Enquist). Steals: 13 (Casto 3, Capers 3, Thompson 4, Watson, Harthun, Enquist). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .489, FT .724. 3-Point Goals: 7-16, .438 (Bouldin 7-12, Gray 0-2, Vilarino 0-1, Kong 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 5 (Sacre 2, Bouldin, Gray, Arop). Turnovers: 19 (Harris, Sacre 5, Bouldin 2, Gray 6, Arop, Gibbs 2, Olynyk, Team). Steals: 10 (Harris 2, Sacre 2, Bouldin 2, Gray 2, Olynyk 2). Technical Fouls: None.
Halftime–Washington State 39, Gonzaga 27. A–6,000.