PORTLAND – Make room, Gonzaga-Michigan State triple-overtime marathon at the 2005 Maui Invitational. You, too, Gonzaga-Arizona double-overtime classic in the 2003 NCAA Tournament.
It is more than worthy, after 17 lead changes, 11 ties, countless dagger 3-pointers and fearless drives to the rim for and-ones in the 2½-hour thrill ride staged inside the Moda Center.
“That would be the one, without a doubt,” said coach Mark Few, when asked if this one paralleled GU’s 109-106 victory over the Spartans in the Maui semifinals. “Those were probably the same, and I say that just because of the heart and soul and courage being shown to all by all the Florida guys and my guys. It was crazy.
“You could tell guys were gassed and looking at each other and still making plays, still making jump shots, which is unbelievable.”
Given more time to reflect on the question, Few probably would have added the Zags’ 96-95 setback to top-seeded Arizona in an NCAA second-round game in Salt Lake City. Blake Stepp had a rare four-point play in GU’s second-half comeback and Tony Skinner’s tip-in forced overtime. Stepp’s bank shot was just a bit too hard as the Wildcats escaped in double OT.
In the Maui classic, Adam Morrison, who called Friday’s game as part of Gonzaga’s radio broadcast team, played 52 minutes and poured in 43 points. Michigan State counterpart Maurice Ager hit seven 3s – one over Morrison’s finger tips late in regulation – and scored 36 points.
Those roles Friday were played by Gonzaga’s Johnathan Williams and Florida’s Jalen Hudson. Williams was outstanding, making 16 of 22 from the field and several pressure-packed free throws en route to 39 points.
Hudson had 31 of his 35 points after halftime. He made 8 of 12 3s, two that gave Florida a cushion in the second overtime.
Williams was self-effacing, as usual, afterward, thanking every Zag coach by name and his teammates for getting him the ball in the right places.
“We lost so I’m not feeling too good, but as a team our motto is to get better week by week,” said Williams, who surpassed his previous career high, set when he was at Missouri, by 12 points. “We made a significant jump as a unit. We came up a little short.”
Few credited Florida for making adjustments and shooting the Zags out of their zone defense early in the second half.
Few lamented his play call near the end of regulation that resulted in Silas Melson’s difficult mid-range jumper, failing to mention the play drawn up that freed Melson for an open 3-pointer that bounced off the rim at the end of the first overtime.
The loss of Killian Tillie early in the first overtime and Josh Perkins late in the first extra session to fouls forced the Zags to go with a makeshift lineup.
“What happens is we have some really young guys out there with some of our sophisticated switching that we do and they’re just not quite up to speed yet, which is understandable being 3-4 weeks in (to the season),” Few said.
The what-ifs were endless, but Few was mostly appreciative reflecting on an early candidate for college basketball’s game of the year.
“This tonight is why college basketball is so great,” he said. “Everybody is focusing on the 2 percent that isn’t so great right now, but this is why you guys all cover it, why it’s been a huge part of my life, his (gesturing at Williams) life. It’s the best.”
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