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Good vibes for Zags

Gonzaga’s Demetri Goodson is swarmed by teammates after hitting the winning shot Saturday to beat Western Kentucky. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga’s Demetri Goodson is swarmed by teammates after hitting the winning shot Saturday to beat Western Kentucky. (Christopher Anderson / The Spokesman-Review)

Bulldogs ride big weekend into Sweet 16

Most of the players had left the floor and the crowd was filtering out of the Rose Garden after Gonzaga’s thrilling 83-81 win over Western Kentucky on Saturday, but GU’s Micah Downs, Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin and Demetri “Meech” Goodson, of course, were courtside awaiting TV and radio interviews.

They had a minute to themselves. So they stood there laughing, clowning around and reliving Goodson’s game-winning bank shot with 0.9 seconds left.

“It was just unbelievable,” Bouldin said. “Unbelievable game, not a lot of times you get to be part of something like that. We were excited looking back at the ending. (Western Kentucky) was such a great team. And we were just so happy for Meech.”

The positive vibes are starting to stack up for the Bulldogs. Accomplished over the weekend alone:

•They won a first-round NCAA tournament game for the first time in three years.

•They fell behind by six against physical, methodical, defensive-minded Akron, but an impressive 31-6 run produced a 77-64 victory Thursday. Gonzaga’s defense triggered the turnaround.

The Bulldogs came back from six down again Saturday in a fast-paced offensive shootout with Western Kentucky to advance to the Sweet 16. Gonzaga’s offense carried the day.

“There’s been a quiet confidence and assurance and a pretty good amount of poise and not panicking down the stretch or even in the middle of these games,” head coach Mark Few said. “We got down five or seven and they stayed with it. They’ve had a real mature, possession-by-possession approach and nobody ever really created huge space on us over the weekend.”

•They survived a late scare as WKU scored nine rapid-fire points – two buckets coming after Gonzaga turnovers – to pull even before Goodson’s game-winner.

“We probably need to work on that a little bit,” Downs said of the two-minute stretch when WKU wiped out Gonzaga’s 81-72 lead. “But the only thing that matters is we pulled it out. I’m just so thankful we get to move on and we get another game.”

•Pargo and Josh Heytvelt were members of GU’s 2006 team that was outscored 11-0 by UCLA over the final 3:12 and absorbed a crushing 73-71 loss in the Sweet 16.

“Definitely had flashbacks,” Pargo said.

Added Heytvelt: “It was kind of one of those here-we-go-again things. But as soon as ‘Meech’ threw it in the hoop it reminded me of Blake (Stepp’s last-second) shot against Arizona (in 2003), but ours was lucky enough to go in. A much better outcome.”

•They won a close game. When your average scoring margin is 17.2 points (second nationally), close games aren’t the norm. Gonzaga is 6-4 in games decided by single digits. WKU is 14-5 in games decided by 10 or less.

“It was a great feeling to get out of that first round a couple days ago and it’s an even better feeling to win like we did (Saturday),” Heytvelt said. “We’ve had a lot of close games, many of them went the other direction.”

Four of Gonzaga’s five losses came by 5, 5, 1 and 7 points during a 17-day stretch in December.

•They won it by executing an end-of-game or end-of-shot clock possession, which haven’t always been fruitful for Gonzaga the past two years. In addition to Goodson’s shot, GU ended the first half with a play that resulted in Bouldin penetrating and getting fouled. He made 1 of 2 free throws.

“We go over end-of-game situations all the time,” Downs said. “Goodson has shown he can handle it, so obviously it paid off.”

Few elected not to call timeout after Steffphon Pettigrew’s tip-in tied the score at 81 with 7.9 seconds left. That decision was made during WKU’s timeout with 24.8 seconds remaining.

“The first thing we talked about was, ‘We need one stop. We have a small lineup so we have to dig in, carve out your space and get the rebound,’?” Few said. “We got the stop, we didn’t get the rebound.

“I said, ‘If they score, let’s get it and go, unless we don’t have anything I’ll call timeout.’ We’ve got our guards out there, let’s push it up and see if we can get something going to the rim.”

That’s exactly what unfolded, concluding a productive weekend for the Zags.