Aloha! Bulldogs Capture EA Sports Maui Invitational Title In OT
Nov. 25, 2009
LAHAINA, Hawaii - The third time was a charm for Gonzaga University in the EA Sports Maui Invitational as the Bulldogs, fourth in 2002 and the bridesmaid in 2005, captured their inaugural title with a 61-59 overtime victory over the University of Cincinnati Wednesday at the Lahaina Civic Center.
But it wasn't easy for the Bulldogs, who rallied from a 15-point deficit in winning Monday's opener against the University of Colorado and coming from as many as 10 down in the second half against the Bearcats in the championship contest.
"That was a heck of a street fight we were in and we survived it," Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. "Cincinnati is playing some great basketball right now; they're incredibly tough on both ends of the floor. It didn't go great early in a lot of phases of the game, and we hung with it and hung with it and stuck with the plan. We made both offensive and defensive plays at the end of the game to win it. Boy, Cincinnati is a tough, tough, tough team."
The Bulldogs had the Co-MVP's of the tournament in guards Matt Bouldin and Steven Gray. Although Bouldin didn't have a great offensive night - going 1-for-7 from the field and scoring six points - he contributed in other ways. He grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds, had three assists and a steal while playing 42 minutes. Gray had 13 points, grabbed seven boards and had four assists. For the tournament Gray averaged a team-leading 18.3 ppg and 5.3 rpg, while Bouldin averaged 15.0 ppg, 7.3 rpg and 4.3 assists/game.
"I think it's perfectly appropriate," Bouldin said of sharing the MVP honor with Gray. "I wouldn't want to share this award with anybody else. Steven has been playing out of his mind. His approach to the whole season really has been unbelievable."
Gray was equally complimentary of Bouldin.
"That's my guy," Gray said. "When I first got here (to Gonzaga) he kind of took me under his wing, kept my head right. We just had a great relationship. It's so much fun right now to come out and play with all of these guys, especially Matt. The share the award is sort of icing on the cake."
Neither team played exceptionally well in the first half, especially at the offensive end as both teams played tight defense and shots were hard to come by. There were only two second-chance points in the first half, those by Cincinnati as the teams combined for just five offensive rebounds, one by the Zags. There were seven lead changes - five in the first five minutes - as Cincinnati had its biggest lead of the half at 23-16 with 1:22 to go in the half on a 3-pointer by Deonta Vaughn, the fourth trey of the half for the Bearcats.
But Gray drilled a 22-foot 3-pointer from the top of the key at the halftime buzzer to pull Gonzaga to within 23-19 at the half. The 19 points was the smallest first-half total since the 2007-08 season when the Bulldogs trailed Washington State University 28-19 at the half.
The Bearcats built a 10-point lead with just under 13 minutes to play in the game, but the Bulldogs chipped away and cut the deficit to one at 46-45 with a 15-6 spurt. Elias Harris, held scoreless in the first half, scored 10 of his 13 second-half points in the first eight minutes. It was his rebound basket of a missed Gray 3-pointer that got the Bulldogs rolling after Cincinnati had taken a 40-30 lead. Harris followed with a muscle layin from the left baseline and Gray hit a three from the top of the key to cut the Cincy lead to 40-37.
Lance Stephenson, who had a game-high 15 points for the Bearcats, got a layin and was fouled, converted the free throw and his team extended the lead to 43-37. Gray made two free throws, Stephenson responded with a jumper from in the lane and then the Bulldogs went to work.
Robert Sacre, who led Gonzaga with 14 points, made a pair of free throws, Demetri Goodson got a steal and a drive for a layin, was fouled and made finished the 3-point play to pull Gonzaga to within 46-43. Yancy Gates, who had 11 points and seven rebounds for Cincinnati, made 1-of-2 free throws and Goodson followed with a jumper from the left side in front of the Gonzaga bench to make it 46-45.
With Cincinnati ahead 50-47 with under six minutes to play, Sacre connected on a 10-footer from inside the lane and Bouldin drilled a 3-pointer from the right side to even the game at 50. Cashmere Wright put the Bearcats up by three with his trey and Gray knotted things at 53 with his 3-pointer from the top of the circle with 2:48 remaining. Stephenson's layin pushed Cincinnati ahead 55-53 at the 1:51 mark, but Sacre's hook shot from 6 feet evened it at 55.
Gates had a chance to win it for Cincinnati but his shot was blocked by Sacre, Bouldin grabbed the rebound and heaved the ball the length of the court but off the mark and the first overtime championship game in the 26 years of the tournament was about to unfold.
The see-saw contest resumed in the OT, Gates hitting 1-of-2 from the line and Harris giving the Bulldogs their first lead since 9-7 with a pair of free throws. The teams missed their next six shots - four of them by Cincinnati - before Gray lobbed to Sacre who slammed home a dunk for a 59-57 Bulldog lead with 2:45 to play.
Harris was fouled with 1:35 to go but converted just one of the two free throws to put Gonzaga ahead 60-57. Vaughn missed a chance to tie, Gonzaga was awarded the ball out of bounds then the Bulldogs turned it over with 38 ticks left. Wright missed a layin with 14 seconds to go and Gates snared the rebound for the put-back slam to make it 60-59. Following a Cincinnati timeout the Bearcats fouled Sacre on the inbounds and he made the first and missed the second as the Bearcats had one more chance after Gates grabbed the rebound. But Wright missed a 8-foot runner that banged off the side of the rim and the Bulldogs began the celebration.
Few said Sacre's late-game block "was an incredible athletic play to turn and go make that block. It was a great read, too, because it was open, but Rob closed it very quickly."
This is the second straight year Gonzaga has won a Thanksgiving tournament, capturing the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., last November. But Few said there's something special about the Maui Invitational that makes this championship all the more meaningful.
"Obviously, this is the pinnacle and the crème de la crème of all pre-season tournaments," Few said. "This is the kingpin and any other analogy you'd like to use. And that's why it's so special. When you look up and see all those teams that have won this thing and then what they've accomplished maybe after they've won this thing, it makes you feel great for your guys."
The Bulldogs had their inaugural Maui Invitational MVP in 2005 with Adam Morrison. His name hangs on the banner. Now the Bulldogs have their name on the championship banner and a couple of more MVP's to join Morrison.
A Happy Thanksgiving, indeed, for the Bulldogs.
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