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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Rasir Bolton rescues No. 9 Gonzaga with late scoring burst, game-winning putback in 77-75 win over USF

Jan. 5, 2023 Updated Fri., Jan. 6, 2023 at 12:39 a.m.

SAN FRANCISCO – There are few situations Rasir Bolton hasn’t been in as a fifth-year college basketball player who’s worn three different uniforms.

So when Gonzaga trailed San Francisco late in the second half of Thursday’s West Coast Conference road opener, the Bulldogs turned to the calm demeanor – and smooth 3-point stroke – of the veteran guard.

Bolton brought the Zags to the finish line then closed the deal on his terms, scoring 11 of his 21 points in the final 5 minutes, 15 seconds before converting a winning putback with 8 seconds remaining to help the ninth-ranked Zags escape War Memorial Gym with a 77-75 victory.

With the game tied at 75, Drew Timme collected the ball in the post and missed a short layup, but Bolton crashed down on the glass for his third rebound of the night and scored while drawing a foul.

Bolton missed the ensuing free throw, but San Francisco’s Khalil Shabazz lost his handle at the other end, preventing the Dons from getting a final shot attempt up before the buzzer sounded.

“I knew we were going to Drew,” Bolton said. “I saw when he spun off that he was going to get his shot up, so I was trying to be there just in case it came off, and the ball bounced my way and I tipped it in.

“I think it was just a lucky play, but it all worked out.”

Bolton’s sense for the moment bailed the Zags out of a game they trailed by 12 points in the first half. Until the guard’s late scoring, Gonzaga was on the brink of losing to an unranked opponent for the first time in 90 games and suffering its first loss to USF in 25 tries.

The St. Petersburg, Virginia, native who arrived at Gonzaga last season after stops at Penn State and Iowa State, hit three consecutive 3-pointers over a span of 2:30, then made another clutch play by picking off a Tyrell Roberts pass and feeding ahead to teammate Nolan Hickman for an open-court layup.

“I was just trying to win, just doing whatever it took,” Bolton said. “We came out kind of flat. It was a rough game. We were battling the whole time trying to fight back, but at the end we came up with the win. That’s all was trying to go.”

Inside the final 10 seconds, Bolton made the type of play the Zags had been searching for all game. USF spent the better part of 40 minutes bullying Gonzaga on the offensive and defensive glass, finishing with 22 offensive boards and a 22-4 advantage in second-chance points.

Bolton’s putback signified GU’s sixth offensive board and third second-chance opportunity in the half. The 6-foot-3 guard entered Thursday’s game averaging just 1.3 rebounds per game and he’d had just five total in GU’s past four games.

“I didn’t foresee Rasir doing it … we were just talking about effort and making effort plays,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It wasn’t going to be pretty, but we’ve got to assert ourselves and I thought we did a way, way better job. We were way more connected on the defensive end.

“They hit some tough shots and then on the offensive end, we finally found somebody that was kind of going.”

For the first time since a Dec. 2 game against Baylor, that person wasn’t Timme, the All-American forward who’d been averaging 27.7 points over Gonzaga’s past seven games. Timme was held to 11 points on 3-of-16 shooting from the floor, but his teammates – namely Bolton – filled in the holes as needed.

Bolton made 8 of 12 shots from the field and went 5 of 7 from the 3-point line. Julian Strawther scored 16 points to go with six rebounds and Anton Watson contributed 14 points and four rebounds.

“Those are the shots we believe him to make,” Strawther said of Bolton. “Dude’s just an elite shotmaker at any level of the floor, all three levels, and he just showed that tonight. We’re just proud of him, but we expect that and I’m just super happy it came in a moment like that where we really needed it.”

Timme still managed to move past Adam Morrison and become Gonzaga’s third all-time leading scorer, needing only seven points in Thursday’s contest to leap the former Bulldog guard. 

Gonzaga tightened up its defense in the second half after conceding 46 points to USF through the game’s first 20 minutes. The Bulldogs held the Dons to 29 points after halftime and forced them to just 2-of-9 shooting from the 3-point line. USF made 8 of 14 from deep in the first half.

Senior Khalil Shabazz scored 15-point first half, but GU held the all-conference USF guard to 1-of-5 shooting from the field and two points after halftime.

Washington State transfer guard Tyrell Roberts finished with a team-high 18 points, shooting 6 of 11 from the field.

“Like ‘Ra’ (Bolton), those guys are tough shotmakers,” Strawther said. “Just making sure you can kind of crowd their airspace and making it as difficult as possible, because those guys are going to come out here and they’re going to get to their spot and rise up for tough ones.”

Gonzaga (13-3, 2-0) closes its first of three trips to the Bay Area on Saturday against Santa Clara (14-4, 2-1) at the Leavey Center.

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