Gonzaga Shows Grit To Down Illinois 85-83 In Overtime

Jan. 2, 2010

Box Score

CHICAGO -Elias Harris scored on a cross-over move with :12 to play then grabbed the rebound at the other end following a Brandon Paul missed trey and Gonzaga University claimed an 85-83 overtime victory over the University of Illinois Saturday at the United Center, home of the NBA's Chicago Bulls and the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks.

The victory was the third straight for the Bulldogs (11-3) since a 35-point blowout against Duke University in Madison Square Garden.

"This was a better game than the last time we were on CBS," Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said in a post-game interview referring to the Duke game. "That's a great win for our team, for our program to come into this environment - what an awesome crowd to see on an early Saturday morning. With as much as we've been traveling I'm just off the charts proud of how our guys hung in there. Especially with the nature of the game where we couldn't do anything wrong early, couldn't do anything right in the middle and then we showed a lot of poise down the stretch. We got the shots we wanted and dug out a couple of stops. That's a great sign for us."

Gonzaga started the scoring in the OT as Harris made 1-of-2 from the line, but Illini followed with four straight free throws for an 83-80 advantage with 3:06 remaining. A Gonzaga turnover led to a missed 3-point attempt by Dominique Keller, who grabbed the rebound and then turned the ball over to the Bulldogs as Robert Sacre got the steal. Gonzaga called timeout and Matt Bouldin came out of the timeout and nailed a 3-pointer from the left elbow with 1:39 to go to knot the score at 83.

Each team missed a shot, but Harris' miss was knocked out of bounds by Illinois as Gonzaga retained possession. The Bulldogs used a timeout and the ball went to Harris, who made his left-to-right cross over and rolled the ball in for the decisive shot.



"Oh, yes, very much so," Few said when asked if that was the shot the Bulldogs wanted. "When we can get Elias the ball anywhere around the basket or even the 8-10 foot step out he's amazing at how consistent he is with delivering. I think in that stretch of the game where we weren't playing so well we kind of lost touch of what was working. Rob and E (Harris) were getting some touches early and when we got away from that it seems to be when we struggled a little bit."

For awhile it looked like the Bulldogs, who entered the game just 36 hours after playing the University of Oklahoma New Year's Eve in the Spokane Arena, would be the ones posting the blowout. Gonzaga, who lost to Temple University in 1999 in the Great Eight Classic in their only other United Center appearance, jumped on the Fighting Illini (9-5) early, building a 10-0 lead before Illinois head coach Bruce Weber could even wait for the mandatory under 16:00 media timeout to help settle his troops. Nothing Weber did helped stem the tide as Gonzaga pushed the lead to 32-11 with 10:40 to play in the opening half. ,

Steven Gray, who finished with 20 points, fueled the early charge, hitting a three from the top of the key after a pair of Harris free throws opened the scoring, then scored seven straight points - two treys and a drive - to extend the lead to 17-4 with 14:17 remaining in the half. When Harris put back a rebound of a Bouldin miss and Sacre hit his first career 3-point attempt with 13:09 to play from the left elbow as the shot clock wound down the Bulldogs had a 22-6 lead.

Few and Sacre joked about his first career 3-point attempt.

"Looked good," Sacre said as Few interjected with "been holding you back, I guess."

But Sacre wasn't done.

`It's from playing horse with David Stockton (Gonzaga freshman walkon and son of John Stockton), that's basically where that came from. No practicing just horse with David Stockton," Sacre laughed.

With the Bulldogs ahead 24-11 Gonzaga went on an 8-0 run to grab their biggest lead. Gray drove for a layin, Bouldin hit from the top of the key and Kelly Olynyk got an easy layin off a pretty pass from Sacre, who followed with his own 10-foot turnaround jumper on the Bulldogs next trip down the court.

But the Illini began to heat up and the Bulldogs, who didn't commit their first turnover until 7:43 remained in the half, finished with six at the half that led to 7 Illinois points. A 10-1 run cut Gonzaga's lead to 33-21 with 6:52 remaining in the half, and Illinois got the deficit to 10 at 41-31 as Mike Davis collected a garbage layup and then connected from the free throw line right extended 3:28 before halftime. Gray scored off an inbounds play, and the Illini scored the last four points of the half to get the deficit to single digits at 43-35.

Gonzaga, which shot better than 60 percent from the field early in building the big lead, still finished the first half shooting 48.5 percent. But the Illini, hovering under 30 percent from the field early and misfiring on their eight of their first 10 field goal attempts, rallied to shoot 41.2 percent in the first half but just 11.1 percent from 3-point range on 1-for-9.

Illinois came out the second half as hot as the Bulldogs were in the first. After missing an easy layin to start the half, Illinois made its next four shots and finally caught the Bulldogs at 45 after a 10-2 second-half start. Demetri McCamey converted an old fashion 3-point play with a turnover and coast-to-coast layin and was fouled by Gray, who picked up his third foul in the first minute of the second half. Mike Davis got a layin, another turnover led to a Jeff Jordan basket and Brandon followed with a 3-pointer from the top of the key for the 45-45 tie just two minutes into the half.

The Bulldogs came back with five straight points, then Illinois went on a 13-2 run to open a 58-52 lead with 13:42 remaining in regulation, a McCamey dunk and a McCamey layin off back-to-back Zag turnovers ending the spurt.

Illinois held its first of two 8-point leads - its biggest of the game - at 66-58 with 10:35 to play following a shot from the right side of the lane by Keller and a McCamey dunk, both baskets again coming on Gonzaga miscues as the Bulldogs finished with a season-high 21 turnovers that led to 33 Illini points. The teams traded baskets and Gonzaga still trailed 68-60 with 8:27 to go.

But Sacre got a hook shot to fall from 6 feet through a triple team, Gray hit from the right elbow and Bouldin got a driving layin to pull the Bulldogs within two at 68-66 with 5:57 left. Illinois converted back-to-back baskets to push the lead back to six at 72-66 before the Bulldogs began their final stretch run.

Sacre started things with a pair of free throws, Bouldin drained a trey from the right side and followed with a driving layin to give the Bulldogs the lead back at 73-72 with 3:26 to go. Keller responded with a layin and Gray hit a big lean-in shot from 12 feet as the Bulldogs regained the lead at 75-74 with 1:23 to play.

Keller, who finished with a game-high 22 points, connected from the top of the key as the lead see-sawed again. Harris scored on a cross-over move for a 77-76 lead with 45 ticks left then blocked a Paul layup and grabbed the rebound following an Illinois timeout with 28 seconds showing. Gray was fouled and made both throws, leaving Illinois 22 seconds on the clock. Keller got wide open from the right top of the circle and drilled the equalizer. Gonzaga's shot for the win from Demetri Goodson was blocked by Keller and Davis grabbed the rebound at the buzzer to send the game to overtime.

Few complimented Illinois.

"I think they are really, really good. That's why I think it is such a great win for us to come on the road. They are a NCAA Tournament team. They defend with such passion and their ability to make shots in a hurry. I thought they really showed that," Few said. "They stuck with the game too. We jumped them pretty early. When Rob starts making three's we should have all gone to Vegas for about five minutes and done something. I thought they showed a lot of poise, especially with the big fella Tisdale being in foul trouble all game I thought some of those other guys really stepped up and showed they could make threes."

Sacre said Gonzaga's aggressive play is what helped the Bulldogs jump out to the big lead, and credits that aggressive with the team's overall success.

"I think if you are the aggressor in any sport, not just basketball, if you are the aggressor in boxing or whatever, you are going to make plays and you are going to be effective. I think when guys are hitting shots it make it a lot easier (to be aggressive). Less double teams, you just have to be aggressive. All of the guys on our team are aggressive and they all look for their shots so it makes your job easier. If that happens it just festers and everybody starts getting good shots," Sacre said.

Few said another key is getting the Bulldogs playing to their strengths.

"That's the biggest challenge with this group is playing to our strengths. Sometimes we lose our way where we're kind of sliding around and do different things. We're at our best when we pitch the ball to Rob in the post, or to Elias and step out and in proximity inside of 10-12 feet of the basket and Bouldin on ball screens or curls," the 11th-year Bulldog head coach said.

But he also praised Steven Gray, who somehow got overshadowed.

"Lost in all of this I thought Steven Gray played great today. He got us off to a great start, kept us in it and made some plays when other guys were struggling and had a big jump shot off a ball screen that got us right back into it," Few noted of his junior guard.

Saturday's game ended a stretch of three games in six days for the Bulldogs, including the tough trip to Chicago after having played Oklahoma Thursday night in a game that featured a 52-minute delay because of a broken backboard. Sacre said the Bulldogs had a solid approach to the week.

"In our minds we made it like a tournament. We played Eastern first, then we played Oklahoma and then we played these guys. I think we just set it as a tournament. We played the Maui tournament like this with short preparation and we just knew what we needed to do. That's how we focused on this game, just one game at a time and made it like a tournament," Sacre said.

The Bulldogs now get some time off before opening West Coast Conference play with three straight road games beginning next Saturday against the University of Portland. That will be followed with games at Saint Mary's College and the University of San Diego. Those three teams are given the best chance of unseating Gonzaga as the Bulldogs go for their 10th straight WCC regular-season title.

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