Gonzaga returned to Spokane hoping for, perhaps, a bit of a ‘give-me' game. Who could blame them after two disappointing losses to Kentucky and Indiana? An encouraging blow-out of one of their in-state rivals, the University of Washington, could be just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, the doctor had too much action in this game, treating injuries sustained by Blake Stepp (who strained his shoulder while lifting weights over the weekend), Winston Brooks, and Tony Skinner. The Zags would triumph over the loss of several key contributors, and would pull out a nail-biting 95-89 over-time victory over the tenacious Huskies.
Under their first-year head coach, Lorenzo Romar, the Huskies came into the Kennel to prove that there is also another basketball team in the state of Washington. Staying close throughout the first half and never letting the Bulldogs pull away, the Huskies would take a four point lead at halftime, 36-32. Tony Skinner, Tyler Amaya, and Zach Gourde did an exceptional job of not allowing UW's star, Doug Wrenn, to take over the game. At the half he had only compiled two points and would finish with 11, eight under his average for last year. In fact, Wrenn's poor shooting teamed with Ronny Turiaf's excellent first-half made up for Gonzaga's tentative early play.
A Dickau-like performance by UW's Will Conroy allowed the Huskies to increase their lead to a game-high seven at 43-36 after intermission. Throughout the game Conroy hit threes, drove the lane, and played pesky defense. To counteract Conroy's performance, Stepp became aggressive off the dribble, creating foul-pressure and key lay-ups. After scoring only five points in the first-half, Blake tallied 28 points in the second half, hitting only one three all night. His aggressiveness sparked the Bulldogs and the Kennel crowd into a roaring comeback. Cory Violette got rowdy underneath the basket at both ends of the court, grabbing rebounds, blocking shots, and taking the ball to the rim. Cory ended with a double-double, 17 points and 12 rebounds. Ronny Turiaf scored 18 points, but would foul-out in the final seconds of regulation. The Zags would also lose Brooks to an apparent knee injury (which didn't appear to be severe) and after an 11 point effort, including two critical threes, Tony Skinner went down with a bruised thigh.
After Stepp missed a free-throw and Conroy hit a three at the buzzer to put the game into overtime, things looked a little grim. Without Ronny, Winston, and Tony the Zags appeared short-handed coming into overtime. The Zags would respond to the challenge with inspired defense and hustle. Josh Reisman helped stop Conroy and would force a 5-second call. Then the tables turned, as the Dawgs began to run out of time and were forced to foul. Despite shaky foul shooting during regulation, Gonzaga made them when they needed to. Fans finally could breathe a sigh of relief as Blake stepped to the foul-line and Conroy sat down with his fifth foul. Stepp iced the game, scoring eight consecutive free-throws in the last two minutes.
Gonzaga travels to Montana on Thursday to take on the University of Montana Grizzlies and then will play the Cougars in Pullman on Saturday.