Bulldogs Flex Muscle In Battle In Seattle

Dec 13, 2003

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    AP Sports Writer

    SEATTLE (AP) - In recent years, the GONZAGA Bulldogs have shown they can compete with the top programs in the NCAA tournament.

    Now they're doing it in the regular season.

    Ronny Turiaf scored 21 of his 23 points after halftime and Blake Stepp added 14 points and 10 assists in No. 17 GONZAGA's dramatic 87-80 overtime victory over No. 3 Missouri on Saturday.

    Freshman Adam Morrison scored 12 of his 17 points in the first half as GONZAGA (7-1) won its seventh straight. Since a season-opening loss to Saint Joseph's, the Bulldogs have beaten Georgia, Maryland and Missouri (3-1).

    "This shows we can play with anybody in the country," GONZAGA coach Mark Few said. "I hope that's what people will walk away and say. When we're playing well, like we did today, we can play with anybody."

    The Bulldogs fought back from deficits of 67-62 with four minutes to play in regulation and 79-75 with three minutes to go in overtime. And it was Turiaf who led both charges.

    He backed into the paint and flipped the ball in for a basket that gave GONZAGA an 81-80 lead with 1:01 to play in overtime. Then at the other end, he drew an offensive foul on Missouri's Jimmy McKinney with 36 seconds remaining.

    "Ronny lives for the moment," Few said. "The bigger the moment, the bigger he plays. For one reason or another, he slowly gets a feel early in the game and then he usually has a great second half."

    Turiaf played the final 4:31 in regulation with four fouls. He even made a few trips to the center circle during breaks in play, waving his arms to keep the crowd involved.

    "That's what Coach asks me to do - be the energizer," Turiaf said. "I just tried to keep everybody fired up."



    Rickey Paulding scored 23 points for Missouri, including a 3-pointer with 10 seconds remaining in regulation that tied it at 73. Turiaf lost control of the ball on the ensuing possession, and the teams went to overtime.

    Linas Kleiza had 16 points and 13 rebounds while Travon Byrant scored 13 for the Tigers, who kept it close despite shooting 34 percent.

    "It was a high-level game for a December game," Missouri coach Quin Snyder said. "I thought we both played at a very high level."

    After two free throws by Morrison gave the Bulldogs an 83-80 lead with 30 seconds left in overtime, Paulding was called for another offensive foul, this time drawn by GONZAGA's Erroll Knight.

    "Those are always some of the tougher calls to make," Snyder said. "Those were momentum plays."

    Stepp and Kyle Bankhead, who scored 11 points, each hit two free throws in the closing seconds. The Bulldogs scored the final eight points in overtime, all in the final minute.

    The game, at supposedly neutral KeyArena, had the tempo and feel of an NCAA tournament showdown, with exciting runs for both teams, key players working through foul trouble and big shots down the stretch by both sides.

    "We prepared for it like a tournament game," said GONZAGA's Cory Violette, who had 12 rebounds. "Two teams coming to a neutral site to play a big game that was publicized for quite a while now."

    The Zags, of course, have made their name nationally by knocking out the heavyweights in the postseason, but this was the highest ranked regular season opponent they ever faced.

    "This was a huge win in terms of momentum for the season, in terms of our confidence going against big teams," Violette said.

    The loss spoiled a homecoming for Snyder, who grew up in the Seattle suburb of Mercer Island. He got a polite cheer during introductions but the pro-GONZAGA crowd saved the noise for the Bulldogs.

    "It really felt like a road game," Paulding said. "We expected it to be loud, but not like this. We adjusted to it, or at least we tried to."

    Paulding had a great second half, hitting two big 3-pointers. One came from the right corner and another from the left wing as the Tigers went ahead 62-61 with 4:49 to play.

    On GONZAGA's next possession, officials didn't make an apparent goaltending call against Bryant when Stepp drove. Few went berserk on the sideline and was hit with a technical foul.

    McKinney hit both free throws to make it 64-61 and, after Turiaf made one foul shot, Missouri's Josh Kroenke made another 3-pointer to put the Tigers ahead 67-62 with 3:36 to go, capping a 15-3 run.

    The Zags answered with an 8-0 burst, with Turiaf scoring six. GONZAGA scored six points in an 11-second span, with Turiaf, Violette and Knight all collecting offensive rebounds.

    "That's what makes this win so special," Few said. "There had to be a tremendous amount of character shown."

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