February 12, 2009 in Sports

Zags escape Saint Mary’s

Associated Press
 
The Spokesman-Review photo

Gonzaga guard Matt Bouldin drives to the basket in front of Saint Mary’s guard Wayne Hunter.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

MORAGA, Calif. — Matt Bouldin scored 21 points, Josh Heytvelt added 20 points and 10 rebounds, and No. 19 Gonzaga survived Saint Mary’s thrilling last-minute comeback for a 72-70 victory Thursday night.

Carlin Hughes hit two 3-pointers and made a layup in the final 48 seconds for the Gaels, who trimmed a seven-point deficit in the final minute to 71-70 on Hughes’ wacky banked-in 3-pointer with 9.9 seconds left.

But after Bouldin missed two free throws, Hughes dropped the ball out of bounds under defensive pressure with 5.2 seconds to play. He also missed a desperation 3-pointer from midcourt at the buzzer.

Jeremy Pargo scored 11 points and hit one free throw with 4.1 seconds left for the Zags (18-5, 9-0 West Coast Conference), who barely solidified their hold on the conference lead after keeping Saint Mary’s scoreless for nearly 51/2 minutes late.

Hughes’ eight-point surge in the final seconds wasn’t quite enough, even though Gonzaga missed four of six free throws in the final 30 seconds — including Bouldin’s clunkers and two more misses by Heytvelt, giving Saint Mary’s a golden opportunity to steal it.

Wayne Hunter scored 18 points and Hughes added 14 for the Gaels (19-5, 6-4), who lost at McKeon Pavilion for the first time this season. After an 18-1 start, Saint Mary’s is 1-4 in its 41/2 games since point guard Patty Mills, their high-scoring Australian star, was injured in the Gaels’ loss to Gonzaga last month.

Diamon Simpson had 12 points and 15 rebounds for the Gaels, becoming the first player in school history with 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds.

Gonzaga won at Saint Mary’s for just the second time in the last five seasons. The Zags had won nine straight before losing soundly to Memphis last Saturday.

Meanwhile, Saint Mary’s knows its NCAA tournament hopes are pinned to the high-scoring playmaker Mills’ possible return for the conference tournament — yet the Gaels nearly pulled off a remarkable upset without him.

Backed by another rollicking sellout crowd in sweltering, 3,500-seat gym high in the East Bay hills, Saint Mary’s kept it tied at halftime and pulled even again at 60 with 61/2 minutes to play. Austin Daye put the Zags back ahead with a rebound dunk, and Bouldin hit a 3-pointer with 4:10 left to push Gonzaga’s lead to 67-60.

The Gaels wouldn’t score again until Hunter’s layup with 1:18 to play. Gonzaga went scoreless for 3:15 down the stretch, setting up the wild finish.

The Gaels were ranked 22nd and were seriously threatening Gonzaga’s annual stranglehold on the WCC championship before Mills broke two bones in his right hand.

Mills had scored 18 points in the first half before his injury, and Saint Mary’s fell apart in the second half of the 69-62 loss. The Gaels relied heavily both on Mills’ scoring and playmaking, and his absence was obvious as they struggled through the next two weeks with losses to Portland and Santa Clara, along with a win over San Francisco.

Hunter, a junior who redshirted last season after starting 24 games in 2006-07, scored 13 points in the first half Thursday night with three 3-pointers. Hunter rejoined the starting lineup last week after coming off the bench, and Mickey McConnell joined him for the second straight game — but no combination of replacements could make up for Mills’ skills.

Mills underwent surgery on his hand with hopes of returning for the conference tournament next month in Las Vegas.

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