MORAGA, Calif. – There was nothing easy about it, even with injured Saint Mary’s standout point guard Patty Mills on the bench in a suit and tie.
Gonzaga head coach Mark Few wasn’t expecting anything different.
The Bulldogs finally got some separation with a late seven-point spurt, only to see the Gaels roar back with a couple of 3-pointers in a frantic final minute. The Bulldogs couldn’t seal it up at the free-throw line, making just 3 of 8 in the last 43.2 seconds.
But the Gaels came up empty on their last two possessions, once with a costly turnover and the other when Carlin Hughes’ desperation 3-pointer from about 40 feet was off target just before the horn sounded. Only then did Gonzaga escape with a wild 72-70 West Coast Conference basketball victory in front of 3,500 Thursday night at McKeon Pavilion.
“The people that said it would be easy without Patty…,” said Few, shaking his head. “They have really good college players. Diamon (Simpson) is a warrior. I knew their guards would shoot it well in this building. They have all year.
“They were undefeated in this building (9-0). I don’t see them losing in this building, especially with crowds like that.”
The victory allowed the 19th-ranked Bulldogs (18-5, 9-0 WCC) to maintain a two-game lead over Portland (16-8, 7-2), which defeated San Francisco. The Gaels (19-5, 6-4) have dropped four of five since losing Mills to a broken hand late in the first meeting with Gonzaga on Jan. 29.
Gonzaga broke from the 11th and final tie at 60 on Austin Daye’s dunk, Josh Heytvelt’s two free throws and Matt Bouldin’s 3-pointer from the right wing. Bouldin beat the Gaels down the floor, and wasn’t shy about letting point guard Jeremy Pargo know it.
“He was ahead of the pack and he said, ‘C’mon, ball, ball, ball,’ ” Pargo said. “No one rotated out there so I threw it ahead and he made a really big 3 for us.”
Gonzaga also ratcheted up its defense, with Steven Gray, Heytvelt and Bouldin causing turnovers.
But Saint Mary’s didn’t go quietly. Hughes hit a 3-pointer to narrow GU’s lead to 70-67 with 31.4 seconds left. After Heytvelt made 1 of 2 free throws, Hughes tried to draw a foul on Heytvelt. When that wasn’t called, Hughes banked in an off-balance 3-pointer with 9.9 seconds remaining to cut GU’s lead to 71-70.
Bouldin missed two free throws, but the Gaels gave the ball back when Hughes couldn’t handle an inbounds pass. Pargo made 1 of 2 free throws with 4.1 seconds left. Hughes’ running 3-pointer was off line as time expired.
“We definitely made it tougher than we needed to,” Bouldin said.
Bouldin led GU with 21 points. His first bucket, with 15:34 remaining, pushed him over 1,000 career points. Heytvelt added 20 points – he’s two away from 1,000 career points – and 10 rebounds.
Gonzaga trailed by nine early, but rallied to pull even, 36-36, in a foul-plagued first half. GU was whistled for 12 fouls, prompting Few to substitute often. Reserve center Will Foster gave Gonzaga a big lift, finishing with three rebounds, two blocked shots and two points in 13 minutes.
“I did what I usually do on defense,” Foster said. “I rebound, I box out and I blocked some shots.”
Heytvelt did much the same. The senior forward had his third double-double of the season.
Still, Simpson finished with 15 rebounds, eight offensive, as the Gaels’ won the boards 45-33. But the Gaels couldn’t overcome 17 turnovers, 10 in the second half, and 39.7 percent shooting.
“It was an improvement for us,” Saint Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said. “We played better. There were still too many turnovers.”
Gonzaga 72, Saint Mary’s 70
Percentages: FG .442, FT .690. 3-Point Goals: 6-11, .545 (Bouldin 3-4, Daye 1-3, Gray 1-2, Heytvelt 1-1, Downs 0-1). Team Rebounds: 3. Blocked Shots: 4 (Foster 2, Heytvelt, Daye). Turnovers: 12 (Pargo 5, Bouldin 3, Gray 2, Goodson, Daye). Steals: 11 (Bouldin 3, Downs 3, Pargo 2, Daye, Gray, Heytvelt). Technical Fouls: Goodson.
Percentages: FG .397, FT .565. 3-Point Goals: 11-25, .440 (Hunter 4-7, Hughes 4-7, Steindl 1-3, McConnell 1-3, Smith 1-1, Walker 0-2, Simpson 0-1, Allen 0-1). Team Rebounds: 2. Blocked Shots: 2 (Simpson, Samhan). Turnovers: 17 (McConnell 6, Simpson 2, Hunter 2, Samhan 2, Hughes 2, O’Leary 2, Steindl, Walker). Steals: 8 (Simpson 4, Walker, McConnell, Hughes, O’Leary). Technical Fouls: Hughes.
Halftime–Gonzaga 36, Saint Mary’s 36. A–3,500.
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