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Gonzaga Basketball

Recap and highlights: Gonzaga holds on in second half for 89-85 win over No. 17 Kentucky

By Theo Lawson The Spokesman-Review

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Gonzaga’s spent the better part of four months looking for a quality win. The Bulldogs finally secured their first at one of college basketball’s historic venues, beating No. 17 Kentucky 89-85 on Saturday afternoon at Rupp Arena. 

In a game that featured five lead changes – and a 13-point Gonzaga lead late in the first half – the Wildcats had a chance to send it to overtime with less than 10 seconds remaining, but Reed Sheppard’s high lob pass was caught by Ben Gregg and the Bulldogs were able to ice it from the free throw line. 

The Bulldogs improved to 1-5 in Quad 1 games with a result that’ll give their NCAA Tournament resume a significant boost. Gonzaga, now 18-6 on the season, returns to West Coast Conference play on Thursday with a 6 p.m. tipoff at Loyola Marymount. 

Kentucky suffered its third straight loss at Rupp Arena for the first time since in the building’s history.

Graham Ike scored a game-high 23 points for the Zags despite battling with foul trouble and sitting for a four-minute stretch late in the second half before fouling out with 43 seconds remaining.  

Anton Watson tallied 17 points for Gonzaga and delivered a variety of key plays down the stretch, drilling a 3-pointer that put the Bulldogs back out in front, 67-66. The senior forward had a blocked shot and scored seven more points inside the game’s final four minutes. 

Nolan Hickman scored 17 points for Gonzaga while Gregg added 13. 

The Wildcats were led by freshman guard Reed Sheppard, who had 21 points, while Antonio Reeves scored 17 and Adou Thiero had 15. 

The game’s first basket came from Hickman, the former Kentucky commit who flipped to Gonzaga in the spring of 2021, and the Bulldogs didn’t trail through the first 20 minutes, leading by as many as 13 points after Graham Ike’s layup with 42 seconds remaining in the half.  

GU’s lead didn’t last long and Kentucky used a 12-0 spurt early in the second half to take its first lead of the game. The Wildcats led by as many as six points, but couldn’t seal the deal, allowing the Bulldogs to erase the deficit behind a barrage of baskets from Ik, who had 11 points in 11 second-half minutes.

BOX SCORE

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First half

19:23 – GU 2, KY 2: Wildcats win the tip and score a jumper, but Hickman answers on the other end. Rapid pace to start the game at Rupp Arena.

16:47 – GU 11, KY 4: Great start for the Zags, who are crashing the offensive glass and take an early lead. Back-to-back second chance baskets leads to a Wildcats timeout.

Gregg leads with five points, Hickman adds four. GU with a 6-0 rebounding advantage.

15:36 – GU 13, KY 6: Wildcats get a second dunk to get the crowd going, but Hickman answers with a layup at the first media timeout.

11:40 – GU 21, KY 15: Ike and Watson check out with a foul and Hickman helps the Zags hold their lead with a 3-pointer. GU has possession at the U12 media timeout.

Hickman leads with nine points. GU shooting 56% from the field and are 2 of 4 on 3s. Kentucky is 33% and 0 of 3. All of the Wildcats points coming in the paint and on free throws.

7:13 – GU 25, KY 20: Gregg gets a dunk after an offensive rebound, but the Wildcats answer with a 3-pointer on the other end. Ike is fouled by Burks (his second) at the U8 media timeout. GU has led for all but 16 seconds so far.

Zags were on a 3-minute scoring drought earlier, before a tough runner from Hickman. Cats couldn’t take advantage.  

3:44 – GU 30, KY 27: Wildcats loose it out of bounds at the U4 media timeout as the Zags hold their lead. 

Ike comes up with a couple tough baskets for GU, he’s up to 10 points. Really only three options on offense for the Zags so far: Hickman (11 points), Ike (10) and Gregg (8). Rest of GU combined 0 of 10 from the field.

1:13: GU 40, KY 29: Fantastic play by Watson, who gets a steal and a layup through contact on the other end. Zags closing the half strong.

Halftime

Gonzaga silenced Rupp Arena and took a 42-32 lead over Kentucky at halftime.

It’s the making of a signature win for GU, if it can finish as strong as it started.

The Zags limited one of the country’s best offensive teams to 32% from the field and 3 of 10 on 3-pointers.

Graham Ike leads GU with 12 points, while Ben Gregg and Nolan Hickman add 11 apiece. 

Second half

17:09 – GU 46, KY 42: Kentucky comes out of halftime on fire and the Zags call a timeout. 

Wildcats make 4 of 6 attempts from the field and have a 10-4 advantage since trailing by 10 at half. Edwards and Sheppard have five points apiece.

Hickman has all four of GU’s points since half. The Zags are 1 of 4 from the field in that time.

15:31 – GU 50, KY 45: Cats stay hot, but GU gets a couple of baskets from Huff and Watson at the U16 media timeout. Watson will have a free throw attempt when play resumes.

13:24 – KY 52, GU 51: Two big dunks and a 3-pointer from Reeves gives the Wildcats their first lead since early in the first half. Gonzaga calls a timeout.

Kentucky is 8 of 14 from the field and 2 of 4 on 3s in the second half. Zags 3 of 10 and 0 of 1.

11:46 – KY 57, GU 54: Massive 12-0 run by the Wildcats is stopped by a 3-point play from Ike and the Zags will have two more free throws after the U12 media timeout. Cats had a chance to put it away with the crowd going, still have a 25-12 advantage in the second half.

7:55 – GU 67, KY 66: Couple of lead changes after Watson hits a 3-pointer. Wildcats loose it out of bounds at the U8 media timeout. 

Not much separating either side here, but Ike has four fouls. He’s been the Zags most important player with 21 points.

3:49 – GU 77, KY 75: Sheppard gets a big block and a basket in transition, but Watson finishes through contact on the other end. Zags retake the lead and have a free throw attempt after the U4 media timeout.

Sheppard has all 17 of his points in the second half.

Huff has been big for GU down the stretch. He has 12 points, filling in as Ike sits on the bench with four fouls.

1:19 – GU 84, KY 80: Watson gets a rebound and a basket and Sheppard gets to the free throw line on the other end. GU clinging to its lead down the stretch. 

43.3 – GU 86, KY 84: Watson makes a big layup. Then Ike is called for his fifth foul on the other end going for a bad pass. Tough break for GU.

Wildcats make both free throws and call a timeout.

13.9 – GU 86, KY 84: Zags hold the ball and Wildcats get a jump ball as Hickman drives to the hoop. Wildcats timeout.

5.1 – GU 86, KY 84: Bad pass by the Wildcats and Gregg gets a crucial steal. Gregg misses the first free throw. GU timeout.

4.1 – GU 87, KY 85: Gregg hits his second, then the Zags foul. Wildcats hit one and then call timeout. 

0:00 – GU 89, KY 85: Hickman makes two free throws to ice it and the Zags pick up their biggest win of the year. Gonzaga withstands 12-0 run in second half to hand Kentucky its third-straight loss at Rupp Arena.

Starting 5: Same starters here for Gonzaga of Nembhard, Hickman, Gregg, Watson and Ike. Kentucky going with Edwards (8.1 ppg), Thiero (6.9), Reeves (19.7), Sheppard (12) and Onyenso (3.8).

Pregame

Opportunities like this rarely come around in February.

Gonzaga is in Lexington, Kentucky, for a rare late-season nonconference game against the No. 17 Kentucky Wildcats today. Tipoff is set for 1 p.m. on CBS.

The Bulldogs (17-6) could badly use a Quad 1 victory to boost their NCAA Tournament at-large hopes, having gone 0-5 in such games this year.

That won’t come easily against the Wildcats (16-6), who play in front of more than 20,000 fans at Rupp Arena. 

Kentucky is 10-3 at home this season, but faltered lately with close losses to Florida and Tennessee last week. A loss today would be the first time the Wildcats have lost three straight at Rupp Arena.

Gonzaga is coming off its best shooting night of the season, when it hit 15 3-pointers in a win over Portland on Wednesday. The Zags will need that form to knock-off Kentucky today.

If not, GU will have at least one more Quad 1 game against Saint Mary’s this year and likely will be forced to earn the West Coast Conference automatic bid to keep its NCAA streak alive.

Series history

Gonzaga is 1-1 in its all-time series against Kentucky, winning the only recent meeting last year at the Arena. There will be plenty more games to come, with both schools locked into a six-year series.

Team stats

Individual leaders

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