For a majority of tonight's contest, it looked like West Virginia would finally get revenge on Gonzaga. The Bulldogs, who had beaten West Virginia in each of the past two seasons by very convincing margins, looked like they were about to be handed their second disappointing loss away from the McCarthey Athletic Center. After a Juwan Staten layup that led to a Mark Few timeout, however, the game got very interesting.
Staten's layup made it a 10 point game with 16 minutes to play and most Gonzaga fans were just hoping their team wouldn't let it get out of control. Gary Bell made a mid-range jumper out of the timeout and Przemek followed that up with a basket of his own to slice the lead down to six. From that pivotal series, the margin fluctuated from 4 points to 6 points, at times hitting 8 but it remained back and forth. The Zags were able to trim the lead down to one with four and change to play and that was when Kevin Pangos absolutely took over.
From the 4:12 mark all the way down to 2:07, Pangos decided it would be best if he was the only one to score - for either team. The Bulldog point guard that had struggled pretty much all night and came up gimpy on a few occasions, hit three huge three-point attempts in a row to catapult the Zags to an eight-point lead.
Unfortunately, the Moutaineers were not willing to let Pangos bury them and the Zags were more than willing to help WVU crawl back. The Zags turned the ball over on three consecutive possessions which allowed the Mountaineers to get back to within two. Then, Gonzaga's senior leader Sam Dower came up big. Dower, who had struggled with foul issues all night, had a massive putback slam on a Gary Bell miss with thirty seconds to play and then pulled in a big rebound on the next possession to effectively end the game. As we said on Twitter during the game, Sam didn't get a whole lot of time tonight, but his effort at the end of the game was monumental.
Even though he didn't get mentioned in the brief recap above, Przemek Karnowksi deserves a whole lot of love for his effort in Morgantown. Karno played 32 minutes, scored 19 points on 6-11 from the floor and pulled in 13 rebounds. While he probably could have gathered in 5-7 more, it is hard to poke holes in his game tonight. More than his offensive production, the thing that impressed me most about Przemek's game was his defensive presence. At the start of the year, he was out of position consistently which resulted in stupid and lazy fouls. Tonight, he was able to stay in front of his man and absorb the contact rather than swat down and cause it. His transformation over the past few weeks is nothing short of remarkable and if he can continue to stay on the court for 28-34 minutes per game, this team can be very special.
Both Gary Bell and Kyle Dranginis played more than 30 minutes tonight and made it count. Bell, in particular, was a huge reason for Gonzaga's success in the second half. He finished with 15 points, 9 coming in the second half and 9 rebounds. Dranginis had a rough night from the floor, going 3-10, but he made a big three down the stretch and finished with 8 points and 6 boards.
While this likely won't draw the eyes of many national viewers since it was a game "Gonzaga should have won", I can't help but think how big a win like this is for this team. To come back from a double-digit lead in the second half in a crazy environment, nearly give the game away, and then have your senior leader put the exclamation point on the win has to give the Zags a whole lot of confidence. There are definitely a few kinks to work out, mainly dealing with pressure defense, but it is hard not to be excited about this win.