With the outcome already decided, Gonzaga senior guard Steven Gray returned to the court with 7:13 remaining for a final curtain call from a sell-out crowd of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Less than two minutes later, Gray delivered a 3-pointer and the perfect time to exit on Senior Night.
Head coach Mark Few sent Mike Hart into the game and Gray departed to a standing ovation. His teammates finished up a 96-49 nonconference men’s basketball rout ofCal State Bakersfield on Monday night as the Bulldogs closed the regular season with a seven-game winning streak.
Gray made three 3-pointers in his last home game, giving him 202 in his career. He had nine points, four assists and two steals. His dad joined him on the floor during a pre-game ceremony, but his mom and sister weren’t able to make it from Seattle because Snoqualmie Pass was closed. They watched the game on television.
“I’d like to say thank you to all of you who stayed,” Gray said in a post-game address to the crowd. “And not just tonight, but stayed with us through the whole season because it’s been a season of ups and downs.”
Later, Gray said the best part of the evening came after his speech. Athletic director Mike Roth presented the team with a West Coast Conference championship trophy, which Gonzaga secured with Saturday’s win over San Diego.
“Cutting down the nets,” Gray said. “Losing as many guys as we did and bringing in all the new guys. I was thinking today the first time I met (Mathis) Keita was on campus with ‘Stocks’ (David Stockton) and I thought he was one of his buddies from DeSmet (Hall) that I’d never see again. It took a couple of seconds to dawn on me, ‘Oh, this is a teammate.’
“To go from that to today … It’s such a close group of guys and then to sort of introduce them the right way to how things are done here.”
Senior Night had a heavy freshmen, sophomore and junior influence. Freshman Sam Dower came off the bench to score 16 points, 12 in the first half. He also had five rebounds and five blocked shots. Sophomore Elias Harris added 10 points and seven boards and junior Robert Sacre scored 16 points in 16 minutes.
The score was tied midway through the first half, but the Zags closed on a 17-5 run to take a 49-31 halftime lead.
The Bulldogs (22-9) dominated the second half, outscoring the Roadrunners 47-18. All 12 Zags played and 11 scored. Gonzaga’s bench players contributed 56 points.
“It was our third game in five days and I thought we came out a little slow,” Few said. “In the second half, I thought we played really well. We corrected ourselves on the boards and we got back to defending the way we’re capable of defending.”
Gonzaga made 50 percent of its shots while limiting the Roadrunners to 34.4. The Bulldogs were 19 of 20 at the free-throw line, led by Sacre’s 8 of 8 and Harris’ 6 of 6.
Cal State Bakersfield (9-18), an NCAA Division I independent, was 2-3 against WCC foes, defeating San Francisco and Pepperdine and losing to Santa Clara and San Diego before Gonzaga.
“They gave us a little challenge early, so we had to respect them,” Sacre said. “It was a nice game to not worry about league or anything, but it was still a game that we knew we had to win.”
Gonzaga now turns its attention to the WCC tournament. The second-seeded Bulldogs will play in the semifinals on Sunday at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas. They won’t know their opponent until Saturday night.
“We’re playing good basketball,” Few said. “I told them we need to make another jump in the 3-4 practices this week.”