PHOENIX – The Gonzaga Bulldogs had won with big first halves, won with big second halves, won on the road, won after spending most of a big lead and won comfortably against quality opposition.
What the Bulldogs hadn’t done yet this young season is win a game that came down to the last couple minutes, when each possession takes on added importance.
Their first opportunity came and went Sunday as they watched Arizona make the majority of the clutch plays in the final 90 seconds. The Wildcats scored seven of the last nine points and posted a 69-64 upset over the fourth-ranked Bulldogs in front of a small, but vocal crowd of 6,207 at U.S. Airways Center.
Gonzaga (7-1) spent most of the second half chasing Arizona (7-2). When the Bulldogs finally caught up at 62-all, they swerved off course again.
“We failed this test,” said sophomore Austin Daye, who equaled his career high with 22 points to go with five blocked shots.
“Next time this situation happens, we’re going to be a little wiser with our decision making and our defensive effort at the end of the game.”
The Big Three of point guard Nic Wise, forward Chase Budinger and mobile post Jordan Hill combined to score 14 of Arizona’s last 15 points and 57 of 69 overall. The Wildcats, utilizing an aggressive, trapping zone defense, used a 12-2 run – three of the buckets coming on dunks, two by Hill and a two-hander from Budinger – to take a 49-40 lead with 13:47 left.
Gonzaga chipped away, pulling within 56-54 on back-to-back 3-pointers by Daye. A pair of Matt Bouldin free throws cut the margin to one and his mid-range jumper tied it at 62 with 2:23 remaining.
The Bulldogs got a defensive stop and called timeout with 1:43 left.
“Steven (Gray) was wide open the play before, but Arizona did a nice job adjusting,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We didn’t execute it perfectly. I probably messed us up there.”
Gonzaga still had an open look, but Jeremy Pargo’s 3 was off line. Josh Heytvelt was called for an over-the-back foul on the rebound, putting Hill on the free-throw line. He had missed the front end of a key 1-and-1 in a one-point loss to Texas A&M recently and was shooting 59.6 percent on the season.
Hill made both shots. Pargo drove deep into the lane but was whistled for traveling, one of his two turnovers in the final 70 seconds, and Hill hit a bank shot from 8 feet at the other end. Bouldin’s layup narrowed Arizona’s lead to 66-64 with 34 seconds left, but Wise sealed it by hitting 3 of 4 free throws.
Arizona’s trapping zone, with effective double-teams near the sideline and in the corners, bothered Gonzaga. Pargo, stellar in directing the offense in the first seven games, had seven of GU’s 14 turnovers. Few acknowledged the trap’s impact – he’d seen it on tape of the Arizona-San Diego State game – but the Bulldogs didn’t help themselves and the guards weren’t the only ones at fault.
“We were having a heck of a time having a ‘4’ or ‘5’ flash and get a catch, turn and face,” Few said. “When we did that, we shot layins and wide open 3s. But then there was a lot of disappearing by our 4s and 5s and that hurt us and put a lot of stress on our guards.”
Wise, who hit four 3s and was a handful to defend one-on-one, added to Gonzaga’s stress. He had 21 points and four assists in 40 minutes.
“You look at the numbers,” Pargo said, “and he destroyed me tonight.”
The same could be said inside. Heytvelt finished with six points – 10 below his average – and six rebounds. Hill, who played the final 6:06 with four fouls, went for 22 points, six boards, three steals and three blocks.
“We didn’t play very well, I didn’t play very well,” Heytvelt said. “I give credit to Arizona for coming out and playing harder than us and executing toward the end.”
Budinger made just 5 of 15 shots, but still produced 14 points and six rebounds. The win marked Arizona’s first over a top five team since November 2001.
“The biggest thing is this kind of puts us on the map,” Budinger said. “This kind of gives us hope again that Arizona is not a lost team, not a rebuilding team.”
Gonzaga has seen enough maps. The Bulldogs have played six straight road/neutral court games. They’ll return home for the first time in a month Thursday to face Texas Southern before Saturday’s showdown with No. 2 Connecticut in Seattle.
“We have to take finals now, we have bear down and compete on those, and then we finally get a home game,” Few said. “And we’ll find out just how tough we are because Connecticut is going to test your toughness.”
(20) Arizona State 59, IUPUI 58 (OT): In the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, Jeff Pendergraph and Derek Glasser scored all of Arizona State’s four points in overtime, and the Sun Devils rallied from a 16-point second-half deficit to defeat the Jaguars (5-4).
Rihards Kuksiks scored 18 points, all on 3-pointers, to lead the Sun Devils (8-1), who trailed 39-23 in the early minutes of the second half.
Arizona 69, Gonzaga 64
Percentages: FG .429. FT .9090. 3-Point Goals: 6-20, .300 (Daye 2-3, Bouldin 2-4, Gray 2-6, Pargo 0-3, Downs 0-4) Team Rebounds: 7. Blocked Shots: 10 (Daye 5, Heytvelt, Pargo, Downs, Goodson, Brown). Turnovers: 14 (Daye, Pargo 7, Bouldin, Goodson 2, Gray, Brown 2) Steals: 4 (Daye, Pargo 2, Goodson). Technical Fouls: None.
Percentages: FG .442. FT .762. 3-Point Goals: 7-10, .700 (Wise 4-6, Budinger 2-3, Johnson 1-1) Team Rebounds: 5. Blocked Shots: 5 (Hill 3, Wise 2). Turnovers: 10 (Budinger, Horne 2, Hill 4, Wise 2, Jacobson) Steals: 7 (Budinger 2, Horne, Hill 3, Wise). Technical Fouls: None. Halftime–Arizona 35, Gonzaga 34. A–6,207.
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