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Gonzaga Basketball

‘Couldn’t do it without him’: Gonzaga’s Braden Huff bounces back in big way against Kentucky

LEXINGTON, Ky. – Braden Huff stood behind Gonzaga’s bench about a half hour after the Zags’ biggest win of the season, posing for pictures and visiting with family and friends who made the trip from the Chicago area.

What a difference a week makes.

Huff had a tough stretch in the closing minutes with starting center Graham Ike on the bench in foul trouble as rival Saint Mary’s pulled out a 64-62 victory Feb. 3 at the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Huff found himself in a similar situation Saturday in another back-and-forth battle – this time against No. 17 Kentucky with 20,186 noisy fans inside Rupp Arena in a game Gonzaga desperately needed to win.

Huff came through with 10 second-half points, including eight in a row for the Zags over a near 3-minute span with Ike on the bench with four fouls, helping GU claim an 89-85 victory.

“This was great,” Huff said. “Most of my family was able to come out. To be able to do that in front of them and get that win, it’s a great feeling.

“Last week against Saint Mary’s was a similar position and I wasn’t too happy with how I performed in that one. The great thing about basketball, you’re put in a similar position and you get to do it all over again. It feels great to be able to just contribute and help the team get the win.”

Huff’s eight-point stretch allowed the Zags to open up a 75-72 lead with 4:52 remaining. Ike returned about a minute later and he had a big bucket off an Anton Watson feed to keep GU in front 82-79.

Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Braden Huff (34) and forward Graham Ike (13) watch in the final moments of the second half of a college basketball game against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Gonzaga won the game 89-85.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Braden Huff (34) and forward Graham Ike (13) watch in the final moments of the second half of a college basketball game against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Gonzaga won the game 89-85. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

“Big time, couldn’t do it without him,” Ike said of Huff. “The whole team collectively, too, Luka (Krajnovic) gave us some great minutes off the bench. We’re up 10 at half and they came out and gave us a big punch. It was great for the guys to stay even-keeled and that’s what we’re about.”

Huff has had higher-scoring games, but producing in a high-level contest in a tough road environment was impressive for the redshirt freshman in just his 24th collegiate game.

“He comes in and he’s scoring and he finally had some success against some high-level athletes and some high-level opponents,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “I think that was encouraging. His defense is making some strides. It’s still not quite up to industry standards yet, but he’s making strides.

“That was great. I think everybody in the program has tons of confidence, that’s why they kept throwing him the ball, that he’s going to be able to score if he gets the ball.”

Huff was able to maneuver inside for field goals against Kentucky’s rotation of three 7-foot frontcourt players. The left-hander finished with his right hand in the middle of the lane early in the second half to put Gonzaga on top 48-43.

During his sequence of eight consecutive GU points, he posted up for a pair of baskets and added another when Kentucky was called for goaltending. Huff, one of GU’s top 3-point shooters but hitting just 45.5% at the foul line, also drained a pair of free throws.

“Huge,” Watson said of Huff’s contribution. “He came in and got to his moves. That left hook is unstoppable. I just kept feeding him and Braden did what Braden does. We just kept running the same play, just right back to him.”

Huff said most of his mom’s side of the family, his sister, uncles and several friends were in attendance. His mom was with his younger brother at a school dance and didn’t make the trip.

“The Kennel is pretty crazy, but it’s a lot smaller,” Huff said. “This is unreal. You see it on TV, but being here it’s just totally different. It’s unreal.”

Kentucky Wildcats fans jeer as Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Anton Watson (22) inbounds the ball against the Wildcats during the second half of a college basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Gonzaga won the game 89-85.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
Kentucky Wildcats fans jeer as Gonzaga Bulldogs forward Anton Watson (22) inbounds the ball against the Wildcats during the second half of a college basketball game on Saturday, Feb. 10, 2024, at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. Gonzaga won the game 89-85. (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)

GU adds Quad 1 win to at-large resume

The Zags have heard over and over that they were winless in Quad 1 in five attempts prior to defeating Kentucky. Quad 1 games are vs. teams in the top 30 of the NET rankings, neutral-court games vs. top 50 and road vs. top 75.

“Yeah, that’s the first thing someone said when we got in the locker room: ‘It’s a Quad 1 win,’ ” Watson said with a chuckle. “I think it was a pretty funny joke, but it definitely feels good to get that one.”

Translation: They were tired of hearing about it.

“I might have been late getting in (the locker room), I didn’t hear that,” Huff said, “but that was a big one for us. I’m happy we were able to get that Quad 1 win.”

Kentucky entered the day at No. 23 in the NET while Gonzaga was 25th. The Zags are 1-5 in Quad 1 with at least one more regular-season opportunity against Saint Mary’s on March 2.