SAN FRANCISCO – This game will long be remembered for two things: Gonzaga’s inability to hit free throws in crunch time and the NCAA’s point of emphasis this season on elbows to the head.
A back-and-forth tussle finally seemed to be leaning Gonzaga’s way when center Robert Sacre secured a rebound with 24.5 seconds left and the Bulldogs leading by one point. Before Sacre could make an outlet pass in traffic, San Francisco’s Angelo Caloiaro closed in and Sacre unintentionally caught Caloiaro on the chin with an elbow.
Referees watched a replay on a courtside TV monitor and called Sacre for an intentional foul. Caloiaro made both free throws and USF retained possession, which led to two more free throws by Rashad Green. Gonzaga fought back to force overtime on Demetri Goodson’s clutch 3-pointer, but the Dons used a pair of three-point plays in the extra session to defeat the Bulldogs 96-91 in front of 4,195 Saturday at War Memorial Gym.
Gonzaga coach Mark Few was livid when Sacre was whistled for the foul. Few hasn’t been a fan of the new rule since the beginning of the season.
“It’s one we need to look at as coaches and refs,” Few said of the new rule, which is in place for player safety reasons. “I don’t know what the rebounder is supposed to do, and I don’t know what to coach the rebounder on.”
San Francisco coach Rex Walters, whose team moved into solo second place in the WCC, said, “I told Mark afterward, ‘That’s tough, that’s a tough way for us to win it.’ It’s a weird deal, it is. We’re not going to refuse it; we’re going to take it. The bottom line is we still had to make free throws and make plays down the stretch.”
Indeed, and the Dons (10-10, 4-1) were up to the task. Michael Williams, who rebounded for a miserable first half, delivered a three-point play with 2:41 left in overtime to put the Dons up for good. Gonzaga pulled even at 91 on Mathis Mönninghoff’s 3-pointer – his only shot attempt of the game – with 50.8 seconds left. Caloiaro misfired on a 3-pointer but Perris Blackwell grabbed the rebound. USF tried to get the ball to Williams, but couldn’t.
Doolin stepped in, drove on Mönninghoff and made a running left-handed shot in the paint. Mönninghoff was called for a foul and Doolin added the free throw with 4.1 seconds left. Steven Gray was fouled and missed both free throws, the second intentionally but it didn’t hit the rim, giving USF possession.
Doolin made two more free throws and the Dons celebrated their second consecutive home overtime win against Gonzaga.
“We tried to get it to Mikey, he’s our best 1-on-1 player, but Goodson was denying him,” Doolin said of his three-point play. “Mikey pointed at me and kind of walked away. I went around the left side. There was a lot of room because a lot of my teammates can shoot.”
Gonzaga (13-7, 3-2) dropped into a tie for third place in the WCC after its 0-2 road trip. The Bulldogs lost consecutive conference games for the first time since falling to Pepperdine and San Diego in the 1999-2000 season. Gonzaga’s defense, which helped spur a nine-game winning streak that ended with Thursday’s loss at Santa Clara, struggled again as five Dons reached double figures, led by Doolin’s 23 points.
“Our defense has slipped a little bit and that’s on us,” said Sacre, had 14 points and nine rebounds. “It’s still a long season. We’re not even halfway through league. We’re going to keep grinding away and keep getting better.”
Gonzaga looked like it would survive another rocky defensive effort when it pulled ahead 77-73 on Gray’s 15-foot jump shot. USF tied it at 77, but David Stockton’s 3-pointer returned the lead to GU, 81-79, with 41.6 seconds left. The Bulldogs’ lead would have been bigger, but they made just 1 of 5 free throws in the closing minutes. Elias Harris missed the front end of a 1-and-1 and Manny Arop was 1 of 4.
Following Sacre’s intentional foul, GU eventually trailed 86-83 when Goodson buried a 3 from the corner with 6 seconds left in regulation. Goodson, just 2 of 13 (15.4 percent) on 3s entering the game, scored a season-high 20 points. Gray also had 20 points, but was just 7 of 20 from the field.
Gonzaga was 2 of 8 at the free-throw line in overtime. The Bulldogs, the WCC’s top free-throw shooting team at 76 percent, made their first 10 free throws before Gray missed one with 13:57 left in the second half.
“Certainly free throws were one thing that hurt us,” Few said. “We’ve been good shooting them all year. It was one of those nights we didn’t step up and knock them down.”
The Bulldogs return home Thursday to face first-place Saint Mary’s (17-3, 5-0), which had an 11-game winning streak snapped by Vanderbilt on Saturday.
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