LAHAINA, Hawaii – It was the kind of stat sheet that made it hard for Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few to pick out his favorite entry.
The near 50-percent shooting. The frequent trips to the free-throw line and the accuracy once they got there (21 of 25). The 38-31 edge in rebounding. The eight turnovers. The defensive work on Badgers guard Trevon Hughes, who finished with just 10 points, six under his average. Four players, and nearly a fifth, in double figures.
Maybe the 42-18 advantage in points in the paint?
“That was a very complete basketball game for us,” Few said after the Bulldogs soundly defeated Wisconsin 74-61 on Tuesday in front of a packed house of 2,400 at the Lahaina Civic Center to advance to the championship game of the Maui Invitational.
“Coach (Leon) Rice had the scout and there were three or four things we wanted to do and we did them,” Few added. “We wanted to win the battle of the boards, take care of the basketball and really defend them and make every shot tough.”
Gonzaga (4-1) will face Cincinnati (4-0), an impressive 69-57 winner over Maryland, tonight at 7 PST.
The Bulldogs took control midway through the first half. A 13-1 run, triggered by consecutive baskets by Steven Gray, pushed Gonzaga in front 32-19 with 6:12 left. Wisconsin charged back within 38-33, but Gray’s layup on an inbound play (his second one of the half) and Matt Bouldin’s 3-pointer in transition sent Gonzaga into the break with a 43-33 lead.
Wisconsin, which came in yielding 49.7 points per game, didn’t allow an opponent more than 42 points in a half last season.
“We knew what they were trying to establish and their will was imposed more than ours,” Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan said.
Gonzaga clicked in all areas in the opening 20 minutes. The Zags shot 50 percent (15 of 30), made their first nine free throws and committed just two turnovers. The points in the paint differential was 24-6 – and counting. Sacre and Elias Harris combined for 18 points – their total in Monday’s win over Colorado – and they’d go on to finish with 25 points and 14 boards.
“Coach has been on me a lot about throwing it to Rob, Will (Foster) and the other posts,” Goodson said.
GU was able to get its running game against an opponent that usually controls the pace.
“If you can get stops,” Few said, “you can always play up-tempo and we did a nice job with that. This team is at its best when we’re running. We got great push from ‘Meech’ (Goodson). He was electric on a couple of those plays.”
Wisconsin (3-1) strung together six straight points, four by forward Jon Leuer, to get within 58-52, but Bouldin buried a jumper after his defender backed away. After another Leuer field goal, Bouldin fed Sacre deep in the lane. The sophomore center made a jump hook while drawing a foul. His free throw gave GU a nine-point lead.
“I just did my move, took my time,” Sacre said. “They know I’m going to try to deliver when I get the ball.”
Wisconsin was within 63-56 with 7:19 remaining when Goodson hit a pull-up 8-footer, starting a decisive 8-0 run. Bouldin scored the last four points on low-post moves against an undersized defender.
“It’s tough to play against a team like that,” Ryan said. “They’re well coached and well drilled. They’ve got leaders out there and guys that know what to do in those situations. I think we do, too, but we weren’t the ones in the lead.”
Bouldin led GU with 18 points and five assists. Gray had 15 points and Goodson chipped in nine.
Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor had 19 points and Leuer added 18. Hughes finished with 10 points, but he was in early foul trouble and he took just two shots in the first half.
“We wanted him (Hughes) to see a bunch of eyes,” Few said. “We had our guys in help territory and they were bluffing, (so) rather than just seeing lanes to the basket, I think he was seeing a bunch of blue jerseys. And Meech did a phenomenal job.”
The Zags’ challenge tonight will be on the glass, where Cincinnati has snagged 38 offensive rebounds to account for 34 second-chance points in two wins. The Bearcats outrebounded No. 24 Vanderbilt 53-32 and No. 21 Maryland 47-33.
“It’s going to be a heavyweight battle,” Sacre said. “Muhammad (Ali) and (Mike) Tyson, basically.”