Washington State kept it simple in its men’s basketball showdown with Gonzaga on Wednesday night: Patiently work for quality shots and challenge every offensive look for the Bulldogs.
That formula proved successful as WSU built a nine-point halftime lead and then held off repeated challenges by the Bulldogs to register a 51-47 victory in front of a packed house of 6,000 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. The eighth-ranked Cougars (8-0) connected on 44 percent of their shots and limited No. 17 GU (7-2) to just 25.9 percent, its lowest field-goal percentage since shooting 26.8 against Wyoming in the 2002 NCAA tournament.
“I understand (injured GU center Josh) Heytvelt makes a difference for them and some of their kids didn’t shoot the ball well, but our goal at the start was to make this as simple as possible – get as many quality shots as we can and then let’s make them work for almost every shot,” Cougars coach Tony Bennett said. “For the most part, we did that.”
In doing so, the Cougars claimed their second straight victory over the Bulldogs, the latter in one of the most highly anticipated games played at GU.
GU never found its stride on offense, scoring 19 points in the first half. That was its lowest first-half total since 1996, also against WSU. GU’s 47 points were its lowest since a 47-point effort against Southern Utah in 1996. Matt Bouldin and Austin Daye, Gonzaga’s top two scorers entering the game, combined to go 1 of 20. Bouldin didn’t score and Daye had seven points.
Despite all that, the Bulldogs mounted numerous second-half threats, thanks to some fierce defense and the offensive production of David Pendergraft (15 points), Micah Downs (11) and Jeremy Pargo (10).
“David stepped up and knocked down the open 3s,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We just needed a couple of other guys to step up and knock some down. I thought Washington State did a great job. Their defense was tough to score on. We just needed that one shot to put us over the hump and put us in the lead.”
It never came. Pendergraft missed a 3 that would have narrowed WSU’s lead to one with 6 minutes left. Pargo missed a high-arcing shot off the glass that would have put Gonzaga on top with 5 minutes left. Daye’s 12-footer, that would have tied it, rattled in and out with 4:15 left.
WSU kept its poise and hit key shots and free throws down the stretch. Robbie Cowgill’s tip-in of a Weaver miss restored a four-point WSU lead with 2:20 remaining and Taylor Rochestie delivered the dagger, a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 28.6 seconds remaining. Rochestie offered a fist pump after the shot, one of the few times the Cougars showed on-court emotion.
“Extra excitement because I wanted to help the team,” said Rochestie, who finished with eight points and five rebounds to help a 43-30 edge. “I was turning the ball over and maybe got caught up in the atmosphere (of the arena). To come back and play with a little more poise and just help my team, that’s what it comes down to.”
WSU enjoyed a big advantage inside as Cowgill and Aron Baynes combined for 23 points and 18 rebounds. Cowgill blocked three shots, including one in the first half when Bouldin appeared to break free for a left-handed layup attempt. Gonzaga’s interior players – Robert Sacre, Will Foster and Abdullahi Kuso – combined for just one point and two rebounds.
“Our strength is that is can be any one on any given night,” Bennett said. “It wasn’t a game where the offense was real pretty. So that required sometimes that you just throw it inside and let Aron horse one up or have Kyle make a play off the dribble.”
Weaver, who finished with 12 points, made plays at both ends of the court. He was the primary defender on Bouldin.
“I just came in with the mentality to make him earn everything,” Weaver said. “I tried to contest everything and I got a hand up on a couple of shots and I think that bothered him. I think he thought twice when he saw me a couple of times.”
Gonzaga finished with seven assists versus nine turnovers, but its shot selection and open looks seemed to improve in the second half. The Zags’ shooting percentage, though, remained about the same – 26.7 in the first half, 25 percent in the second.
“A lot of them were pretty good looks,” Few said. “I don’t want to take anything away from their defense – it was good. But a lot of those 3s were open and we just didn’t make them and a couple of the drives were there and we didn’t make them.”
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