LAHAINA, Hawaii – Turns out Gonzaga center Robert Sacre wasn’t far off when he said the GU-Cincinnati basketball game would be “Muhammad (Ali) and (Mike) Tyson.”
There were knock-down screens, rugged play on the boards, bodies sprawled on the floor and any number of so-called hard fouls. One on Cincinnati’s Cashmere Wright started a brief scrap early in the second half that resulted in technical fouls being assessed to Gonzaga’s Demetri Goodson and Sacre and Cincinnati’s Wright and Steve Toyloy.
But the Bulldogs threw the final punches. Sacre’s jump shot from the middle of the lane sent the game to overtime. There, Cincinnati misfired on 5 of 7 free throws and the Bulldogs capitalized. Sacre’s dunk put Gonzaga ahead to stay and the Zags held on for a 61-59 win to capture the Maui Invitational championship in front of 2,400 Wednesday at the Lahaina Civic Center.
“It was a street fight,” said Gonzaga coach Mark Few, as the theme from “Rocky” blared over the sound system. “I loved our resiliency. It wasn’t going great for long periods of time, but we just stuck with it and stuck with it.”
The win should send the Bulldogs (5-1) into the Top 25 rankings. They were 26th in the most recent poll. Cincinnati (4-1) nearly pulled off a championship in its first trip to Maui.
“They know how to win,” Bearcats coach Mick Cronin said. “They were never going to go away because their guys kept fighting.”
Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray shared MVP honors. They joined Adam Morrison (2005) as Maui MVPs.
Gonzaga, trailing most of the way, caught up at 50 on Bouldin’s 3-pointer, his first and only field goal of the game. Wright and Gray traded 3s, but Gonzaga missed a chance to go ahead when it turned the ball over with 2:10 left.
Cincinnati didn’t miss its opportunity as freshman forward Lance Stephenson, whose dogged defense frustrated Bouldin, got free with a crossover move and scored from 4 feet out with 1:50 remaining, giving the Bearcats a 55-53 lead. Sacre missed from 10 feet and Stephenson was off target on a 3-pointer.
Gonzaga called timeout with 39.3 seconds and this time the possession clicked. Sacre came open in the lane after setting a screen at the top of the key. Gray hit him with the pass and Sacre made the tying shot with 15.6 seconds left.
“Nice, simple play,” Gray said. “He was wide open.”
Sacre then blocked Yancy Gates’ shot as he attempted to finish a lob pass at the rim in the closing seconds, sending the game to overtime.
“Yancy told me he got fouled,” Cronin said. “The guys in the ESPN truck told me he got fouled.”
Few’s viewpoint was much different.
“He made an incredibly athletic play to turn and go back and make that block,” Few said.
Sacre’s overtime dunk came on another pick-and-roll and another feed from Gray.
“We worked too hard, everybody, in the preseason, not to win this tournament,” said Sacre, who finished with 14 points. .
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