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Congratulations to Tony Skinner for earning Player of the Week honors, shooting 10 for 16 from the field versus Georgia and NC State, 6 for 6 from the foul line, and playing tenacious defense.
Gonzaga got just what they wanted for Christmas: a solid win over a previously undefeated and nationally ranked basketball team. The Bulldogs defeated 25th ranked N.C. State in the Jimmy V. Classic on Tuesday. After coming off a disappointing loss to the Georgia Bulldogs, the Zags came out to show skeptics that they are still ‘for real.'
From the opening tip you could tell Gonzaga came to play. The Zags exposed the Wolfpack's weakness in the post by pounding the ball down-low for scoring opportunities, played superb defense, hustled after every ball that appeared lost, blocked shots, and did what they didn't do against Georgia: rebound. Coach Few had expressed his concern on the battle of the boards to his Zags, and it was evident they listened.
Richard Fox scored Gonzaga's first points in the game. On that opening play, the Bulldogs sent a message as they grabbed six successive offensive boards until Richard finally put one in, plus a free-throw for the three-point play. N.C. State countered Fox's points with two threes. Gonzaga's hustle paid off with some great fast-breaks. One play in particular showed the Zags' desire and heart. Blake Stepp had the ball stripped from him, then he sprinted down-court to steal the ball from an unsuspecting N.C. State player, saved it out of bounds to Kyle Bankhead, who passed it to Winston Brooks for a beautiful reverse lay-up. After the Wolfpack sank several open threes, the Zags switched from the failing zone to man-to-man. The switch appeared to work, as State missed 19 of their final shots of the half, and only stayed in the game thanks to free-throws and Gonzaga's inability to convert on 2-foot shots.
The Bulldogs led by 8 points after Zach Gourde made a pretty move with 2:30 left in the half. N.C. State would trim the Zags' lead to 32-27 at the end of the first half. Gonzaga out-rebounded the Wolfpack 33-19. N.C. State's sophomore star guard, Julius Hodge, was held to 1 point for the half, thanks to Tony Skinner and several other Zags' sticky defense.
The Wolfpack wasn't about to unleash the Bulldogs. Julius Hodge scored three straight treys while Gonzaga's big men were having a hard time finding the basket. Some of Gonzaga's difficulties under the hoop may have been due to what appeared very physical play inside the paint. In spite of the banging near the basket, the whistles favored the Wolfpack as at one point they had converted 11 of 14 from the charity line while the Zags were limited to one free throw. N.C. State would lead the Zags by as many as 5 points, but determined play by both the guards and posts put a quick end to that.
Bankhead and Stepp's sniping allowed Gonzaga to regain the lead. On one play, Josh Reisman (who showed some spark handling the offense and playing tight defense) drove the lane then kicked it out for a critical three by Kyle. Gonzaga's bigs also found the basket and remained solid the remainder of the game. The Wolfpack chose to foul to hope for Gonzaga misses. There were a few tight moments when Blake went uncharacteristically cold from the line but his misses were matched by critical misses from the Wolfpack. Gonzaga would go on to win, 69-60 in very encouraging and Gonzaga-like style.
Gonzaga punished N.C. State on the boards, out-rebounding the Wolfpack by 26. Richard Fox recorded a career-high by grabbing 17 boards in 25 minutes of solid play. Every Zag that played scored, led by Skinner's 14 and Cory's 12 in an evening of balanced scoring.