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Gonzaga Basketball
Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Mar(Key) moments: Rewinding the best individual Gonzaga performances at Seattle’s KeyArena

UPDATED: Wed., Dec. 1, 2021

It’s no longer standing in downtown Seattle, at least not in its original form, but KeyArena is still tied to some of the most important moments of Gonzaga’s golden era and far more than just a footnote in the Bulldogs’ history books.

Next to McCarthey Athletic Center, and perhaps the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, there may not be another building in America that’s witnessed more program-changing moments than KeyArena, the venue where Gonzaga won its first NCAA Tournament game in 1999, achieved more postseason success in 2004 and 2015, and for 13 consecutive years from 2003-15 brought in marquee nonconference opponents as part of the Battle in Seattle.

In the last iteration of the Battle in Seattle, Gonzaga furnished a 9-4 record, winning the last five games before the series took a five-year hiatus. The Bulldogs also had an NCAA Tournament record of 5-1 at KeyArena and beat cross-state rival Washington in the lone neutral-site game played between the teams there.

Gonzaga is hopeful the 15-5 record it posted at KeyArena will be a good omen for its next chapter inside the building that’s taken new shape this year, and adopted a new name, Climate Pledge Arena.

The $1.15 billion renovation project prompted the Bulldogs to revive the Battle in Seattle – it’s yet to be seen whether the game will be played on an annual basis – and Gonzaga will return to the Seattle Center district for the first time since 2015 when it meets No. 16 Alabama at 5 p.m. Saturday.

Whether it’s Drew Timme, Andrew Nembhard, Chet Holmgren or Seattle native Nolan Hickman doing the honors this time, the Zags will have a chance to write more history in a city, and a building, that have been synonymous with many of the program’s marquee moments.

Below we revisit 10 of Gonzaga’s best individual efforts at KeyArena.

Wiltjer rocks Hawkeyes

March 23, 2015: Gonzaga’s streak of six consecutive Sweet 16 appearances may be the best symbol of the Bulldogs’ postseason consistency, and it all started in 2015 when Kyle Wiltjer scored 24 points on 10-of-12 shooting from the field and went 4 of 6 from the 3-point line to beat Iowa 87-68. Wiltjer’s efficient shooting on a night where he also had seven rebounds helped the Zags race out to a 17-point halftime lead, close out their Big Ten opponent a punch a ticket to the Sweet 16. They haven’t looked back since.

Sabonis goes for 36

Gonzaga vs. Tennessee, Dec. 19, 2015: It’s something he does routinely in the NBA these days, but Domantas Sabonis only broke the 30-point barrier twice as a college player – once on Jan. 2, 2016, while scoring 35 points against San Francisco in West Coast Conference play and two weeks earlier against the Volunteers when he scored 36 points while making 12 of 16 from the field and 12 of 15 from the free-throw line in an 86-79 win. In true Sabonis fashion, he also pulled down 16 rebounds.

Olynyk KOs Kansas State

Dec. 15, 2012: Kelly Olynyk punctuated Gonzaga’s 68-52 win over Kansas State with a one-handed dunk with 9 minutes to go and brushed off the technical foul that came with it as he extended the Bulldogs’ lead to 14 points. Olynyk dominated the low post and dunked four times, scoring a team-high 20 points on 10-of-13 shooting to help the Bulldogs bounce back from their first loss of the season, against Illinois. Olynyk’s production came in just 19 minutes and the Canadian big man fouled with 4:56 to play.

Harris takes over Seattle (Part 1)

Gonzaga vs. Davidson, Dec. 12, 2009: Matt Bouldin’s absence meant other Zags would have to step up against Davidson at the Battle in Seattle. Three of them had 20-point outings, but none was better than the freshman Harris, who registered a season-high 27 points on 7-of-9 shooting and contributed to a program-record 54 free-throw attempts, going 11 of 14 from the line. Harris made his first seven shots to help the Zags beat Davidson one year after Stephen Curry and the Wildcats beat GU in the NCAA Tournament.

Harris takes over Seattle (Part 2)

Gonzaga vs. Arizona, Dec. 17, 2011: Before Arizona could score 12 points, Elias Harris had already posted 12 of his own, accounting for all but seven of Gonzaga’s first 19 points in what would eventually be a 71-60 win at the only Battle in Seattle featuring the Bulldogs against a Pac-12 opponent. Harris had 17 points in the first half and needed a few more contributions from the forward in the second to hold off a resilient Arizona team. Harris finished with 25 points, making 11 of 15 from the field, and chipped in eight rebounds for the Bulldogs’

Gray’s efforts not enough

No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 2 UConn, Dec. 20, 2008: Facing a UConn team that was so talented a young freshman guard named Kemba Walker only played 12 minutes off the bench, Gonzaga and reserve Steven Gray gave the second-ranked Huskies all they could handle before losing 88-83 in overtime. Despite not starting, Gray played a team-high 39 minutes off the bench and became GU’s go-to option while scoring a career-high 23 points on 10-of-16 shooting. Gray did more than that, though, adding seven rebounds, four assists and two steals.

Morrison sinks Cowboys

No. 9 Gonzaga vs. Oklahoma State, Dec. 10, 2005: Thanks to Jalen Suggs, it’s no longer the most impressive bank-shot buzzer-beater in program history, but Adam Morrison’s winning 3-pointer off the glass against Oklahoma State is still Gonzaga’s most iconic KeyArena moment 16 years later. In the third rendition of the Battle in Seattle, the ninth-ranked Bulldogs trailed the Cowboys by 10 points at halftime but staged a second-half comeback that concluded with Morrison hoisting a high 3-pointer over two OSU defenders with 2.5 seconds to seal a 64-62 win. On a night when he shot just 6 of 14 from the field, Morrison also made 11 free throws to score a game-high 25 points.

Turiaf’s finishing touch

No. 19 Gonzaga vs. No. 3 Missouri, Dec. 13, 2003: The first Battle in Seattle set a high bar – and one that was seldom met – for the 12 games that followed, as No. 3 Missouri traveled to the Pacific Northwest to face a one-loss, No. 17 Gonzaga team. Ronny Turiaf finished with 23 points to lead the Bulldogs, but only after scoring 17 in the second half and four more in overtime, lifting Gonzaga to an 87-80 win over Mizzou and coach Quin Snyder, now of the Utah Jazz. Turiaf played the final 4:31 of regulation with four fouls and scored six points during an 8-0 GU run to help force OT.

Savvy Santangelo beats Huskies

Gonzaga vs. Washington, Dec. 14, 1999: There have been 48 games played between GU and UW since 1971, but only three took place at a neutral/non-campus site. In 1999, the Bulldogs and Huskies met in downtown Seattle and Matt Santangelo delivered a 14-point, nine-assist performance to help GU defeat an in-state Division I opponent for the third time that season, allowing them to claim the unofficial title of “state champions.” Santangelo drilled an NBA-range 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer to put GU up 37-33, and the Bulldogs never trailed en route to a 76-66 win.

History for Frahm, Zags

Gonzaga vs. No. 7 Minnesota, March 11, 1999: It’s something Gonzaga has done 39 times, including 20 times in the past six seasons, but before 1999 the Bulldogs had never won a game in the NCAA Tournament, losing to Maryland in the program’s only other appearance four years earlier. Where Gonzaga would be in 2021 without Richie Frahm’s 26-point outing at KeyArena 22 years ago may be one of the school’s greatest “what ifs,” but the Battle Ground, Washington, native deserves a large share of the credit after hitting five 3-pointers and going 7 of 13 from the field to help the Bulldogs cruise past Minnesota 75-63 in the opening round of the 1999 Tournament.

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