Win over Memphis will help status come March
Gonzaga added another quality win to its NCAA men’s basketball tournament résumé, holding off host Memphis 66-58 in front of 17,037 on Saturday at the FedEx Forum.
The victory came less than two days after the Bulldogs routed Portland at the McCarthey Athletic Center. GU pulled off a similar feat earlier this season, defeating Oklahoma in Spokane and 36 hours later edging Illinois in Chicago.
“I thought we had a tough-mindedness to us and a tough mentality about us,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It is hard to play well in this building because the crowd is such a huge part of the game. You can’t hear your sets or hear your calls, but we were able to overcome that.”
The 17th-ranked Bulldogs (19-4) had gone 0-4 versus Memphis the last four years. Senior guard Matt Bouldin, who scored just 20 points in three previous games against the Tigers, led Gonzaga with 19 points. He was 4 of 4 at the free-throw line in the last 62 seconds.
“I don’t think I’ve played well (against Memphis), so it really does feel nice,” Bouldin said. “I’m more proud of my zero turnovers than anything. They seem to rush people and push the tempo a lot. I was happy with how I took care of the ball.”
Center Robert Sacre had 13 points and six rebounds. Steven Gray, whose 3-pointer with 3:40 remaining gave Gonzaga the lead for good at 56-53, added 12 points and seven boards. Backup center Will Foster chipped in a career-high eight points, two days after setting his personal best with six points against Portland.
“I was a bit more relaxed than normal, coming off a good night (Thursday),” Foster said. “We played together and we were really pumped up for this game. It was more of a team effort than anything.”
Demetri Goodson added six points, including a layup on a feed from Elias Harris with 2:04 left and a pair of free throws with 43.2 seconds remaining. Goodson drew three charging fouls on the Tigers.
Gonzaga led by as many as nine in the second half, but Memphis ran off nine unanswered points to pull even at 49. Willie Kemp’s layup gave Memphis a 53-51 lead with 4:48 remaining, but Harris, who was just 2 of 14 from the field, connected in the lane. Gray followed with a clutch 3-pointer from the right wing.
Sacre’s jump hook and a pair of Bouldin free throws gave GU a 62-57 lead with 1:02 left. After a Tigers’ free throw, Bouldin and Goodson each hit two free throws as Gonzaga improved to 5-2 in road games.
Wesley Witherspoon’s 26 points led Memphis (16-7). He made 8 of 11 shots; his teammates were 11 of 37. The Tigers were just 14 of 26 at the free-throw line, including 1 of 4 in the final 5 minutes.
“To win a game like this, you have to make free throws,” Memphis coach Josh Pastner said. “That’s the bottom line. If we make our free throws like we did on Wednesday (against Alabama-Birmingham) or like we did against Marshall, then we win the game. We didn’t, and that’s why they got the win.”
Gonzaga weathered a shaky start offensively, using a late 9-0 run to take a 28-23 lead at intermission. The Bulldogs made just 4 of their first 18 shots, but stayed close by keeping Memphis’ offense in check. GU utilized an effective zone defense for stretches in each half and limited the Tigers to 39.6 percent shooting, 28.6 percent on 3-pointers.
“They can hit 3s in bunches and just create turnovers,” Few said. “I am very happy with our guys on the defensive end because we really stayed in our gaps and made them take difficult shots. Taking care of the ball against that athleticism and the way they climb up into us with the crowd going, I am very happy to see the way we kept our poise.”
Gonzaga entertains Saint Mary’s in a WCC showdown Thursday.
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