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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga stuffs Baylor in Arena

Gonzaga's Josh Heytvelt lowers the boom on Baylor's Mamadou Diene in the first half on Wednesday. 
 (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga's Josh Heytvelt lowers the boom on Baylor's Mamadou Diene in the first half on Wednesday. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

There’s nothing even remotely sexy about balance. But when it’s the strength of your basketball team, you go with it.

And that’s exactly what Gonzaga University did Wednesday evening in holding off Baylor 78-69 in the West Region finals of the Dick’s Sporting Goods NIT Season Tip-Off at the Arena.

Remarkably, Josh Heytvelt, who dominated play in Tuesday night’s opening-round rout of Rice, wasn’t even on the floor in the final minutes as the Bulldogs (3-0) turned back the stubborn Bears (2-1) and earned a Wednesday trip to New York’s Madison Square Garden, where they will face North Carolina in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals.

Instead, the 6-foot-11 sophomore watched his team’s stretch run from the bench, where he spent the last 4 minutes, 48 seconds of the game after picking up his fourth foul.

His absence, though noticeable, hardly mattered as first-year junior college transfer Abdullahi Kuso took over on the low blocks and staged his own little coming-out party by scoring eight points and grabbing seven rebounds in just a little over 14 minutes of playing time.

“I told him tonight that if I had to pick an MVP, it was him,” Bulldogs coach Mark Few said of the 6-9 Kuso, who seemed to get a hand on nearly every rebound and loose ball during the closing minutes of the game. “He came in there right when we were at a lull, both offensively and defensively, and picked us up with his energy and made some tough plays.

“He was flying around and rebounding the ball well and gave us a presence in there when we were getting pounded a little bit. He really changed the game for us.”

And there were other stars, as well, as the Zags rolled to a 39-27 halftime lead and then withstood some excellent long-range shooting by the Bears, who made 6 of 15 3-pointers in the second half.

All five GU starters, led by senior guard Derek Raivio, scored in double figures. Raivio, who was 10 for 10 from the foul line, finished with a game-high 18 points, followed by Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes with 14, Heytvelt with 13, Jeremy Pargo with 11 and Sean Mallon 10.

“That’s one of the great things about this team,” Pargo said of the Bulldogs’ balance. “You never know where it’s coming from when you play us.”

Of Kuso’s play, Pargo added, “He played great, he knocked down free throws, he rebounded the ball, played hard, blocked some shots – Kuso was Kuso.”

Few said the fact that his team was able to survive Baylor’s late run without using Heytvelt spoke volumes to what this year’s Zags are all about.

“That’s one of this team’s strengths, and weaknesses,” he explained. “We’re very balanced and not just dialed into two main guns.”

Baylor, despite starting slow and struggling to score against GU’s defensive pressure, never let the Bulldogs out of sight and cut a 19-point early second-half deficit to 68-59 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Curtiss Jerrells and Henry Dugat with 3:16 remaining.

That was as close as the Bears could get.

Baylor coach Scott Drew praised both Gonzaga and the crowd of 8,303 that loudly backed the Zags and gave Kuso a standing ovation when he was pulled from the game with 49 seconds left.

“Give the crowd some credit and give their team a lot of credit for having the poise to make big plays and never really giving us a chance to (take) that lead,” Drew said.

Few said he was “thrilled” for his players.

“This is a great opportunity, especially for such a young, unproven group, to come in here and win two games against two very good teams and get an opportunity to go to New York.

“To play in the semis of the NIT, that’s a good as it gets.”

Gonzaga 78, Baylor 69

Baylor(2-1, 0-0)MinM-AM-AO-TAPFPTS
Totals 20025-6912-1817-34162869

Percentages: FG .362, FT .667. 3-Point Goals: 7-26, .269 (Jerrells 1-5, Dugat 3-8, Bruce 0-6, Thiam 0-1, Bush 1-2, Lomers 1-2). Team Rebounds: 34. Blocked Shots: 1 (Diane). Turnovers: 10 (Rogers 2, Jerrells 2, Dugat 2, Bruce 2, Diane Lomers). Steals: 2 (Dugat, Bruce). Technical Fouls: None.

Gonzaga(3-0, 0-0)MinM-AM-AO-TAPFPTS
Totals 20025-4726-328-37131878

Percentages: FG .532, FT .727. 3-Point Goals: 2-12, .163 (Mallon 0-1, Heytvelt 0-1, Pargo 0-2, Altido-Cespedes 2-3, Raivio 0-5). Team Rebounds: 37. Blocked Shots: 1 (Kuso). Turnovers: 15 (Bouldin 4, Pendergraft 3, Mallon 2, Pargo 2, Heytvelt, Altido-Cespedes, Kuso, Foster). Steals: 3 (Heytvelt, Bouldin, Foster). Technical Fouls: None. Halftime– Gonzaga 39, Baylor 27. A–8,303.

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