SEATTLE – It was a rugged eight-day stretch featuring three quality opponents and final exams, capped by a quick plane trip and limited preparation time against the defending Pac-12 champions.
The perfect recipe for a … 14-0 sprint out of the starting blocks?
Junior forward Elias Harris triggered Gonzaga’s stunning first 5 minutes and the Bulldogs held off Arizona’s second-half comeback to post a 71-60 men’s basketball victory in the ninth annual Battle in Seattle viewed by 15,127 Saturday at KeyArena.
“This week was very hard, but what did we go, 2-1, I’ll take it,” said freshman guard Gary Bell Jr., who wrapped up his five finals Thursday. “We played three tournament teams.”
The week had Gonzaga coach Mark Few worried.
“I just told them that might be as tough a week as we’ve had in quite a while,” said Few, recalling a physical loss to Michigan State and a “grinder” victory over Oral Roberts with finals in between. “And then to have short prep and play a very good Arizona team, that’s a heck of a week.
“I was worried about coming out with nothing in our tank. We tried to go light (at Friday’s practice). A lot of our teams coming out of finals are kind of zapped, but these guys did a nice job. And having that youth, sometimes they make mistakes but it kind of energizes everybody, too.”
Harris hit a 3-pointer on GU’s first possession. Then it was a post-up three-point play, a jumper, a jump-hook and a putback. Then he posted up but didn’t get the ball. He spun around, re-posted and scored inside for his 14th point as Gonzaga surged on top 22-4 with 11 minutes left.
He had 17 points by halftime and finished with a 25 to go with a team-high eight rebounds.
“I felt great in warm-ups, I wasn’t over-thinking things and I played as hard as possible,” Harris said. “Once you do that, I think everything else comes really easy. It might look hard for other people, but if you fly around and hustle, the basketball gods treat you well.”
Harris’ 3-pointer sent Gonzaga (7-2) into half with a 39-21 lead, but Arizona (7-4) made the Bulldogs squirm over the last 10 minutes. Behind guards Nick Johnson (13 points, six assists) and Kyle Fogg (14 points), Arizona closed within 57-47 on Fogg’s jumper and 60-54 after Solomon Hill’s two free throws.
The Bulldogs held on, overcoming a 4-of-8 stretch at the foul line with Robert Sacre’s dunk and a Harris’ layup after beating the Wildcats’ full-court press.
“Their intelligence and size, the way they play offensively and defensively, we’re not a good matchup.” said Wildcats coach Sean Miller, who burned three timeouts in the first 12 minutes unsuccessfully trying to stem GU’s momentum.
After averaging 17.7 turnovers the previous three games, Gonzaga committed just six, its lowest total since turning it over four times against USC Upstate in 2009.
“It limits the turnovers when you’re patient and don’t try to force things,” said freshman guard Kevin Pangos, who offset a subpar shooting game with eight assists and just one turnover.
The Bulldogs dominated inside with a 40-26 rebounding edge and 40 points in the paint, fueled by Harris, Sacre, Sam Dower and Mike Hart. Dower scored eight straight points in the second half and finished with 10. Hart tracked down six offensive rebounds and scored six points.
“We see glimpses of it all the time in practice, but that was a consistent, 40-minute effort,” Hart said of Harris. “That was awesome. It seemed like every time we missed he was getting the rebound.”
Gonzaga, stung by Illinois’ 53 percent shooting and Michigan State’s 54, held Arizona to 41 percent, two days after limiting Oral Roberts to 40 percent.
A brave girl jumps from the rocks on the west side of Tubbs Hill as her two friends watch. (Don Sausser/Facebook photo)
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