PORTLAND – Early in the second half of Saturday’s game between Gonzaga and Western Kentucky, the Bulldogs’ Josh Heytvelt fell to the floor of the Rose Garden, causing a pileup with teammate Matt Bouldin.
Bouldin got up and began limping. Coach Mark Few began to show concern, until his junior guard begged off, saying he didn’t need a sub.
But Bouldin’s left knee began to throb, and a timeout couldn’t come soon enough.
“The second we got the timeout, I asked the trainers, ‘Anything you can do for my leg?’ ” Bouldin said. “So they wrapped it. I wasn’t about to come out, especially in that game.”
Gonzaga needed Bouldin, and he delivered one of his typical well-rounded performances in the Bulldogs’ 83-81 win over Western Kentucky. Bouldin scored 20 points, grabbed eight rebounds and handed out six assists to lead Gonzaga in all three categories.
And the pain an hour after crashing into Heytvelt?
“It doesn’t hurt that bad,” Bouldin said.
Unless you saw Bouldin’s wrapped knee, you would have never know he was playing hurt. Bouldin scored 13 points during the second half, and hit a pair of 3-pointers when the Bulldogs needed an offensive boost.
Ask Gonzaga players about Bouldin’s performance, and they shrug their shoulders as if to say we’ve seen it many times before.
“In our minds he is the MVP of our league,” guard Micah Downs said. “He’s been doing that all year long. Been money all season. We knew he was going to come to play.”
Sophomore guard Steven Gray said there’s a consistency to Bouldin’s production, but every once in a while, “there are days when he does a little extra.”
Bouldin said that really wasn’t the case; it was more of a matchup situation. Western Kentucky is guard-oriented, which caused the Bulldogs to put a lot of guards on the floor.
“We knew we could get rebounds from the guard position,” Bouldin said.
Couldn’t buy free throws
It figures to be a long few days for Western Kentucky, which shot better from 3-point range (12 of 25) than it did from the free-throw line (5 of 14).
The Hilltoppers were particularly poor at the line during the first half, missing their first five free throws.
Western Kentucky was an average free-throw shooting team this season, shooting 70 percent from the line.
“We’ve been up and down at times,” Hilltoppers coach Ken McDonald said. “The heat of the moment, different backdrops, who knows?”
It could have been the Rose Garden. Western Kentucky made only 13 of 22 free throws in its opening-round win over Illinois. In the Sun Belt Conference championship game, the Hilltoppers were 14 of 14 against South Alabama.
A few extra chances, too
Gonzaga gave Western Kentucky some extra unintended free-throw shooting practice by fouling the Hilltoppers three times on 3-point shots.
Gray, Daye and Bouldin were the guilty parties.
“And mine was an “and one!” said Bouldin, who fouled Sergio Kerusch as he drained a 3-pointer. “I’ve never seen so many foul calls on 3-point shots.”
For Gonzaga, it wasn’t necessarily a result of carelessness. Western Kentucky was killing the Bulldogs from 3-point range. The Hilltoppers hit a dozen 3-pointers, including seven by Orlando Mendez-Valdez and three by A.J. Slaughter.
In trying to slow down Western Kentucky’s perimeter offense, Gonzaga started defending with more zeal.
“If you look at Mendez and Slaughter, did they miss tonight?” Daye said. “There was a sense of urgency on our part, and you tend to get a little aggressive.”
Defending the strategy
McDonald said he did not consider taking a timeout after Steffphon Pettigrew’s tip-in with 7.9 seconds tied the game at 81-81.
McDonald believes there was little he could have said to change the player’s mindset. As it turned out, Demetri Goodson raced up court and delivered a soft bank shot just before time expired to give Gonzaga the win.
“I think this happens all the time, that guys are a little bit too afraid to foul,” McDonald said. “I think guys are tentative, it’s their nature. At the end of the game, you don’t want to foul.”
The final statistics might lead some to believe little defense was played by either team. Western Kentucky shot 51.6 percent from the field, and Gonzaga wasn’t far off at 50 percent. Both teams shot 52 percent during the first half.
About that defense?
“I think we played really good defense,” Daye said.
“It was a mix,” Gray said.
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