KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Gonzaga can add another item or two to its growing list of concerns.
The Bulldogs, beaten on the boards in a home loss to San Diego State a week ago, were beaten down the floor by Kansas State, which repeatedly came up with timely 3-pointers in transition en route to an impressive 81-64 victory Monday in the semifinals of the CBE Classic at the Sprint Center.
The fourth-ranked Wildcats (4-0) hit 12 of 26 3-pointers – four by senior guard Jacob Pullen and two by reserve guard Will Spradling – to the delight of a mostly purple-clad crowd of 18,630. Many of those 3s came before GU could get its defense set and many of those blunted GU rallies.
“They push the ball,” Gonzaga senior guard Steven Gray said. “Our coaches told us we were going to have to get back. By the time we were on the court realizing it, they were up 12.”
Gonzaga (2-2), ranked 22nd in the latest Associated Press poll released on Monday, will face Marquette, which lost to No. 1 Duke 82-77, at 4:45 PDT tonight. Kansas State tangles with Duke for the championship at 7 p.m.
Kansas State made its first 3 and led 7-0 less than 90 seconds into the game. The Wildcats connected on nine 3s in the first half. At one point, KSU was 7 of 11 on 3s and just 6 of 11 at the free-throw line.
Trailing 10-2, Gonzaga got a nice boost from redshirt freshman guard David Stockton, who had a pair of assists and drove for a layup as the Bulldogs narrowed the deficit to 20-17. But every time GU got close, the Wildcats quickly answered.
“They were terrific in transition,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said. “We never really solved the transition defense aspect.”
Gonzaga closed within 25-19 on Demetri Goodson’s two free throws, but the Wildcats pulled the ball out of the net and raced down the floor for an open jumper. It didn’t fall, but Kansas State hauled in the rebound – a statistic the Wildcats won 41-29 – and eventually cashed in with a trip to the free-throw line.
Late in the half, Gray drove the lane and made a shot from close range. KSU quickly fed the ball to Pullen, who went the length of the court before he was finally challenged by Robert Sacre. Pullen simply dished the ball into the corner to an open Victor Ojeleye, who buried a 3-pointer.
The Wildcats led 49-38 at half, but the margin could have been wider if not for their 11 turnovers and spotty free-throw shooting (6 of 11).
“They came at us full force,” said Sacre, who led GU with 17 points. “They’re a good team, that’s why they’re ranked fourth. They beat us on the boards. We knew they were a good team on the boards. That’s on us again. We just have to be more physical.”
Gonzaga was on the verge of making a game of it early in the second half, trimming the deficit to six after a pair of Sacre free throws. After Kansas State was called for a charging foul, Sacre took a pass two feet from the basket. He was open, but hesitated, then tried a pump fake and was called for traveling.
“I just thought there were some other guys there and that I needed to gather myself before going up because I was missing some easy ones when I didn’t gather,” Sacre said.
GU had another chance to cut into Kansas State’s lead, but Gray’s pass deflected off Sacre’s hands for a turnover. This time, Kansas State made Gonzaga pay as Pullen buried a 3-pointer and the Wildcats were off on a decisive 12-1 run.
Gray, sensational in Gonzaga’s first three games, struggled in the second half. He committed four of his six turnovers and made just 1 of 5 field-goal attempts. He finished with 15 points, four assists and five steals. Elias Harris, returning from an Achilles injury, was ineffective in 23 minutes, scoring only four points.
The Bulldogs were just 6 of 23 from the field in the final 20 minutes and they went roughly 9 minutes between field goals as the Wildcats stretched their lead to 22.
“There were stretches where we played good basketball, but there were stretches where we didn’t,” Gray said. “We have to eliminate those. Those lapses are hurting us. We have to play 40 minutes.”