Gonzaga To Face Wisconsin In Maui Invitational Semifinal

Nov. 23, 2009

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LAHAINA, Hawaii - Nail biting games involving Gonzaga University in the EA Sports Maui Invitational seem to be the rule rather than the exception.

The Bulldogs (3-1) proved it again Monday morning in the opening game of this year's collegiate basketball showcase event with a come-from-behind 76-72 win over the University of Colorado, handing the Buffaloes their first loss in four outings this season. Gonzaga's last three games in this tournament - the final two games of the 2005 tourney and Monday's contest - have been decided by a total of nine points. Gonzaga beat Michigan State University 109-106 in triple overtime in the '05 semifinals prior to losing to the University of Connecticut 65-63 in the title game.

Gonzaga will play the University of Wisconsin in Tuesday's 6:30 p.m. PST semifinal on ESPN. The Badgers, who opened with a 13-0 lead, held on to defeat the University of Arizona 65-61 in Monday's late game.

In other games Monday, the University of Cincinnati topped Vanderbilt University 67-58 and the University of Maryland easily handled host Chaminade University 79-51. Those two winners meet in Tuesday's early semifinal.

Colorado was without head coach Jeff Bzdelik who left Maui Sunday afternoon to go to Chicago to be with his ailing mother. In his place, associated head coach Steve McClain called the shots from the bench. McClain was the head coach at the University of Wyoming when the Cowboys upset the sixth-seeded Zags in the 2002 NCAA Tournament first round, and for awhile it looked like McClain might get another victory over Gonzaga.

"That's a heck of a win for us," Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said as he saw his Bulldogs win their opening game in this tournament for the third time in as many appearances. "Now I kind of know what Michigan State felt like the other night (a MSU 75-71 win after trailing most of the game). I felt we got out-played for a large portion, but our guys showed a lot of courage, toughness and willingness to stick with the plan and eventually won out. One of the biggest keys was we only turned the ball over one time in the second half. We had a lot of silly turnovers (in the first half). If we aren't hurting ourselves, thus far this year we've been fairly efficient on the offensive end. We player better defense in the second half and these two guys (Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray) stepped up big time and made plays."

Bouldin, a senior, and Gray, a junior, combined to score the final 17 Gonzaga points, 15 of them from the free throw line as Bouldin went 8-for-8 from the line and Gray 7-for-8 in the final 6:31. Bouldin, who finished with 21 points after scoring just five in the opening half, had the only two field goals for the Zags in the final 6:50, one of them on a baseline drive with 3:01 to play to give Gonzaga a 69-67 lead and the other a huge 14-foot bank shot from the left wing with :39 left for a 72-69 advantage.

One of the biggest possessions for the Zags in the comeback came with 6:50 to go when Mangisto Arop hit his only attempt of the game from the left corner in front of the Bulldog bench as the shot clock expired to pull Gonzaga into a 59-59 tie. That play came after Elias Harris went across the lane for a right-handed hook from close range, was fouled and sank the free throw to pull Gonzaga into a 57-57 tie. Tomlinson came back with a pair of free throws and Arop's big shot followed.

Bouldin's two free throws with 4:35 remaining put Gonzaga head 67-65, its first lead since 18-15. Alec Burks answered from the left corner for CU, then Bouldin followed with his baseline drive and Gray hit 1-of-2 free throws for a 70-67 lead. Burks connected again on a jumper from the left side of the lane to pull CU within one and McClain called timeout following the basket with 1:02 remaining. Bouldin hit his bank shot out of the timeout and the Bulldogs had some breathing room, although this one was far from over.

Robert Sacre, held to a season-low 10 points, was called for a foul on the ensuing CU possession but Marcus Relphorde could only connect on 1-of-2 free throws, Elias Harris grabbed the rebound and Colorado had to foul as the Bulldogs clung to a 72-70 lead with 28 ticks left and the shot clock turned off. Gray made 1-of-2 throws for a 73-70 lead and Nate Tomlinson turned the ball over with 11 seconds left. Gray again stepped to the line and made the second of the two-shot bonus for a 74-70 lead.

The Bulldogs pretty much let Higgins drive to the hoop for a layin to cut the GU lead to 74-72, and Bouldin was fouled on the ensuing inbounds, made both free throws and the Zags had the victory.

Bouldin, a native of Highlands Ranch, Colo., outside of Denver, said it was good to get a win over a team from his home state.

"It meant a lot," he said of beating the Buffaloes. " I've been playing with those guys all summer long and I know a lot of them all the way back to high school and grade school, some of them. It meant a lot to be out there playing against them and I have some relationships with some of their new guys. It was nice going against them and I really wanted to win."

One of the halftime adjustments Few and his staff made was to go to more zone defense for much of the second half, and Few thought that was a turning point in the contest.

"We played more zone. Our guys did a good job trying to bring our zone along. It's usually much farther along this time of year, but with all of these new guys that's probably been one of our biggest struggles, and maybe some offensive timing issues to get the new guys up to speed. Under fire from a very, very skilled great offensive team right now, our guys held up pretty well in the zone," Few said.

The Buffaloes led by as many as 15 points in the first half, coming from an 18-15 deficit to go on a 21-3 run and a 36-21 advantage with 5:33 to go in the half. Gonzaga cut the lead to 36-27 on a 6-0 spurt but Colorado pushed the lead to 40-29 at the half.

"I thought Colorado did a phenomenal job preparing for us. Steve McClain knows us and they were ready. It was a game they were pointing for. They came out, spread us out and hit shots. They have a fine offensive team. They've been shooting the ball well. They've been shooting well from three and we knew that. It's an intricate offense, that Princeton style motion. If you don't have a lot of time to prepare, which we didn't, you can get sliced and diced and they sliced and diced us pretty good," Few said.

Gonzaga still trailed by 12 at 54-42 with 13:21 to play, the Buffaloes scoring six straight points after the Bulldogs had cut the deficit to 48-42 as Steven Gray hit a trey for the left corner for three of his career-high 27 points, CU's Casey Crawford answered with a layin, Harris hit 1-of-2 free throws and Kelly Olynyk got a fingertip roll to end the mini 6-2 run.

But CU again took control with six straight points for the 54-42 lead. Cory Higgins, who paced the Buffaloes with 19 points, got back-to-back baskets, and Relphorde a layin to set the stage for the comeback.

Gray said he just tries to do whatever it takes to get his team a victory.

"I was just looking to attack and put a lot of foul pressure on them. Things weren't going all that well offensively and I wanted to get things going," Gray said of his career high that included an 11-for-14 night from the free throw line. "I'm just trying to do whatever it is the team needs from me. If it's hitting the boards on rebounding, playing defense or scoring like I was today I'm just trying to help the team get a win in any way. It was awesome today."

Few said the win was especially gratifying because of the way it was accomplished.

"I think it was one of those gutty wins. From a coaching standpoint it's the wins you like to see your guys get. It wasn't working, they were playing very, very well. They were playing great and we were not. Even to the point where they had us frustrated. I told our guys after the game anybody can continue to play well if you're a front runner and things are going great. The sign of a great competitor is when it's going bad and you can flip the switch at halftime and turn it around. We had several players do that. And as a team we did that. As a coach it makes you feel good because they had to dig deep to pull it out," Few said in praise of his young team which features seven newcomers.



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