Much of the hype leading up to Saturday night’s men’s basketball showdown between the University of Washington and Gonzaga centered on the outstanding stable of freshmen on UW’s roster.
Turns out, the Huskies didn’t have the best one on the floor.
That honor went, instead, to GU’s Matt Bouldin, who celebrated his first college start by throwing in a career-high 21 points and contributing five assists and three rebounds as the 18th-ranked Bulldogs humbled the 13th-ranked and previously unbeaten Huskies 97-77 in front of a wild sellout crowd of 6,000 in the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Along with a career effort from Bouldin, the Zags (9-2) got a game-high 25 points and six rebounds from senior guard Derek Raivio and 14 points and seven boards from sophomore forward Josh Heytvelt.
The win raised GU’s nation-longest home winning streak to 45 and kept its record in the McCarthey Center unblemished at 33-0. It also helped ease the sting of Tuesday’s unexpected 77-67 road loss to Washington State.
“We came out with great energy and stuck to our game plan,” said Bulldogs coach Mark Few after watching his team handle the Huskies (7-1) for the eighth time in the last nine meeting between the two cross-state rivals. “It was just so important to respond to what we did the other night (in Pullman) and get back on the positive track before we get back on the road.”
The Zags set an aggressive tone from the opening tip, pushing the ball at every opportunity and knocking down seven of their first 10 shots to take an early 17-9 lead. They went up by 20 on a couple of occasions in the first half, held a 56-43 advantage at intermission and never let UW within 11 points the rest of the way.
“There’s not a whole lot to say about that game,” Huskies coach Lorenzo Romar said after taking his young team on the road for the first time this season. “We just got flat-out, soundly beat. We were no match for them tonight.
“We wanted to know where we’re at against a good team on the road, and we found out.”
Of Bouldin’s performance, Romar added, “He’s awesome. He’s a great, great player.”
Few was equally complimentary of his 6-foot-5 guard from Highlands Ranch, Colo., who finished 9 of 12 from the field, made one good decision after another with the basketball and did a nice defensive job in helping hold Huskies scoring leader Quincy Pondexter to 13 points.
“That’s why we brought him in here and what he’s capable of doing,” Few said. “He’s a complete guard. He does everything well.
“I think early he was trying to fit in so much he was overpassing at times. We’ve been after him to kind of hunt his shot and become more of a scorer, and he did that tonight. When the ball’s in his hand, good things usually happen.”
Bouldin, who started in place of junior Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes, scored in a variety of ways, knocking down perimeter jump shots and getting to the basket on strong, spinning drives.
Several of his assists were of a crowd-charging nature.
Junior forward David Pendergraft, who made his first start of the year in place of senior Sean Mallon, used the word “special” to define Bouldin’s breakout game.
“It doesn’t matter how old he is, that was a great game,” he said. “Matt did everything he was supposed to do – hit big shots, play great defense and grab rebounds. He was tough out there.”
Another key contributor for the Zags was junior center Abdullahi Kuso, who came off the bench to score nine points, pull down six rebounds and account for four of GU’s seven blocked shots.
“I thought he was great,” Few said of Kuso. “He can bring toughness, he can rebound – gosh, he brought us tons of energy on both ends. He gave us some extra possessions with his rebounding and really protected the goal well. That’s what he’s been doing all fall.”
Kuso, a 6-9 junior college transfer, also teamed with Heytvelt, Mallon and Pendergraft to help deal with UW’s two low-post standouts Spencer Hawes and Jon Brockman. Hawes, a freshman, finished with 20 points and six rebounds, while Brockman, a sophomore, added 13 points and 12 boards, but neither found many easy shots.
It was a different story for GU, which took advantage of the Huskies’ defensive indifference to run the floor relentlessly and shoot 50.7 percent (35 of 69).
“This pace was more our style,” Few said, “but we got some cooperation (from UW). Both teams want to play fast and we wanted to push it as hard as they were pushing it. But we also wanted to make a great decision at the end of it, and that’s probably what we did better than anything else. We only had eight turnovers in a high-possession game.
“We’ve really been shooting ourselves in the foot with unforced errors lately, where we’ve been serving it into the net. But we really limited that tonight.”
The Bulldogs will take final exams this week while preparing for a nasty road trip that includes a Saturday matchup against Georgia in Duluth, Ga., and a showdown against Duke in New York’s Madison Square Garden on Dec. 21.
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