14th-Ranked Zags Hold Off Hilltoppers In Final Minutes

By: Brian Fremund, WKU Athletic Media Relations
By: Brian Fremund, WKU Athletic Media Relations

Anchorage, Alaska — Micah Downs made two free throws and Robert Sacre added a layup following an offensive rebound in the final minute-and-a-half Thursday to help No. 14 Gonzaga hold off Western Kentucky University 74-71 in the opening round of the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout at Sullivan Arena.

The Hilltoppers (3-1), who saw a season-opening three-game win streak come to an end, will now face host Alaska Anchorage at 5 p.m. (CST) Friday in the consolation semifinals. The Bulldogs (4-0) take on Texas Tech in the last of four games.

After the two teams were tied on five occasions in a two-minute stretch late in the second half, David Pendergraft’s layup with just over four minutes remaining gave the Zags the lead for good, 68-66. He doubled the advantage with another layup on GU’s next possession, before Courtney Lee brought the Toppers back within one with under two minutes to go with a layup and a free throw.

Downs pushed the lead back to three when he was fouled after grabbing an offensive rebound with 91 seconds to go, while Sacre made it a two-possession game when he grabbed a Jeremy Evans block of Matt Bouldin’s shot attempt in the lane and laid it in.

Lee put back a missed shot at the buzzer for the final points of the game.

“We knew coming in it would be a tough game, Gonzaga is an outstanding team,” said Topper head coach Darrin Horn. “When you look at it as a whole, rebounding and the free-throw line were the difference in the game. I thought our guys came prepared and ready, and they showed a tremendous amount of heart and toughness.

“We played well enough to win, but just didn’t make enough shots, didn’t grab enough rebounds and missed too many free throws in a game like this to be able to come out on top against a team that not only is a good team but has several guys who have just been there. They made the plays they needed to down the stretch to win.”

WKU was up five, 58-53, at the under eight-minute time-out of the second half, but GU rallied to tie the score with a 7-2 run sparked by a Downs’ three-pointer.

Orlando Mendez-Valdez gave the lead back to WKU with 1-of-2 free throws, but Jeremy Pargo made two foul shots on the other end to give the Bulldogs their first advantage since the opening minute of the second half. Boris Siakam hit 1-of-2 free-throw attempts to tie the score again — Bouldin sank two at the line and Austin Daye converted a short jumper, but the Hilltoppers answered behind buckets from Lee and A.J. Slaughter.

Trailing by one at break, WKU scored the first seven points after intermission keyed by two threes from Evans. The lead would grow to as much as seven when Slaughter hit a basket with 15-and-a-half minutes left to make the score 47-40 and again following his jumper with just over 13 minutes to go.

Slaughter finished with a season-best 13 points on 6-of-11 shooting. Lee led all players with 21 points, adding three rebounds, two assists, two blocks and a pair of steals, and Ty Rogers came off the bench to supply 10 points. He didn’t miss a shot in going 4-of-4 from the floor, including 2-of-2 from beyond the three-point arc. Siakam grabbed a team-high seven boards, but the Zags outrebounded the Toppers 43-30.

Bouldin’s 18 points paced GU, and he was also credited with four rebounds and four assists. Downs was 5-of-8 from the field in scoring 14 points, Pargo collected 12 points and Daye added 10.

The Zags shot 47.4 percent overall, making just 2-of-12 from three-point range, but hit 18-of-28 at the foul line. Their 15 turnovers were the fewest by a WKU opponent this season.

Lee and Bouldin battled in the scoring column in the first half, with both leading their teams with double figures after scoring 12 points apiece as the lead changed hands four times. After Bouldin scored seven of the Zags’ first 13 points in the opening seven-plus minutes for a seven-point advantage, Lee collected five on a jumper and three-point play in a 41-second stretch to pull the Toppers back within two points.

Lee’s effort helped WKU overcome a 2-of-11 start from the floor in the first six-and-a-half minutes.

The Hilltoppers didn’t actually regain the lead — they were up 4-2 in the opening two-and-a-half minutes — until Slaughter scored on back-to-back trips down the floor, with his second bucket, a driving layup with just over four minutes left before the break, making the score 26-24 in WKU’s favor. Lee extended the edge to three with a three-pointer from the right wing with three minutes left, and his final points of the period put the Toppers up 31-28 with two-and-a-half minutes to go.

But, Downs collected all seven of his first-half points in the final three minutes including a three-pointer as the Bulldogs led by two at intermission. Slaughter and Rogers scored seven apiece in the first 20 minutes in support of Lee.

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