Sometimes only a cliche can sum up a game. Good teams find a way to win even when it looks like they shouldn't. This is exactly what happened tonight in Spokane, Washington as Gonzaga found a way to outlast Washington State by a score of 74-69.
The game started out the way we have kind of become accustomed to with this Gonzaga team: slowly. Washington State came out of the gates ready to play and the Zags looked like dear in the headlights. Rob Sacre drew some regular double teams that really flustered him all game long. He turned the ball over three times early in the first half and his frontcourt partner, Elias Harris wasn't doing much right himself.
The bouncy German transplant gave Gonzaga their sixth point and didn't have a point the rest of the first half. He did some nice things in other areas of the game early on but just never got into the first half flow. Offensive ineptitude was not exclusive to Elias. Steven Gray struggled to even get a shot up and his only first half points were free throws. Even though his offense was terrible, his defense may have saved the game for the Bulldogs.
It's safe to say that without a great first half by Matt Bouldin, Gonzaga would have been run out of their own gym. Usually when I look to a box score and see that Matt shot 11 three-pointers, I begin to pull out my hair. This couldn't be further from the truth tonight. Matt felt it early and often tonight and he bailed this team out in the first half. His fourteen points in the first twenty minutes kept the Cougars honest but it was clear he needed help in the second half.
That help came in the form of Elias Harris. Harris came out like a man possessed in the second half. He scored Gonzaga's first six points of the half and never let up. Elias scored 22 second half points and did a little bit of everything. He showed beautiful post moves, great body control, and another taste his excellent jumper. He also pulled down 12 rebounds for a powerful and frenetic double-double.
As I mentioned, Matt Bouldin attempted 11 three-pointers. What I didn't tell you was that he connected on seven of them. Matt displayed tremendous poise all game and that carried over into the second half. The obvious leader of this team, Matt added 14 more points in the second half which added up to a career high 28 points in a game where Gonzaga needed every little bit of his production. His stellar play on this kind of stage is just another chapter of his remarkable career at Gonzaga. A loss tonight would have made this month much harder than it had to be and Matt flat out wouldn't let this team lose.
There will be a lot of performances that go overlooked because of Matt and Elias' wonderful evenings. Four stand out in my mind. The first one is a combo effort from Steven Gray and Manny Arop. The two guys didn't do much on offense but they had the toughest task of the night: Klay Thompson. We said all week leading up to this game that if Gonzaga shut down Thompson, they would shut down the Cougs. That statement is obviously predicated on the fact that Gonzaga should probably show some offensive life. That didn't happen in the first half but Steven and Manny did not let Thompson deliver the knockout punch. They were superb. Secondly, Kelly Olynyk showed why he gets the kind of minutes he does. The scrappy Canuck was 2-3 from the floor and 6-8 from the free throw line. He finished with 10 points and 7 boards and showed some nice offensive moves to go along with his great motor. Lastly, I feel as though Grant Gibbs deserves a mention. Grant played nine minutes and this was the first game where he seemed to feel comfortable. Grant came to Gonzaga as a poor man's Matt Bouldin. Someone who can score at the basket and has great court vision. Gibbs connected on a beautiful backdoor to Elias Harris and finished with a couple assists and gave us some hope that he and Manny can spell Matt and Steven at times.
The overarching negative is obviously the slow start epidemic. Washington State is no slouch but they are a team that Gonzaga should have beaten comfortably on their home court. They have some great youth led by Xavier Thames and Reggie Moore and both delivered stellar efforts for Ken Bone. The slow start bug has plagued Gonzaga all season. My worry is that when they play a team like Duke or even Illinois away from the Kennel, they will get buried if they start slow. It's fun to have second half comebacks, but it is much more fun to dominate from the tip off. I'm sure Mark Few will devise a way to get his team in a flow early on in the next few practices before the Zags really sink into December.
6-1 is about as good as it gets for this team. The youth is fulfilling their promise and the vets are finding ways to get things done. Next up is a reeling Wake Forest team in the McCarthey Athletic Center. Wake has stumbled in recent games losing two straight to William and Mary and then Purdue. There's no doubt that Gonzaga will get Wake's best game.