It is easy to tell when a loss is a heart breaker. You, the writer, can't bare to think about the game, much less write about it. I can only imagine how the players must feel.
Gonzaga appeared to have the upper-hand in a battle against the Stanford Cardinal in the Pete Newell Challenge. The first half was close to the best 20 minutes of basketball the Zags have played. The offense was clicking, rebounding was strong, and the defense was inspiring. Gonzaga's big men faced a front court that could match their power. In a game the Zags could have used him most, Ronny Turiaf was benched the majority of the game due to an ankle injury. Even without Ronny, the Zags' bigs were a force to be reckoned with.
The Cardinal came into the game averaging a +11 advantage on the boards, but Gonzaga muscled their way into each rebounding opportunity and came out with the ball. Gonzaga shot around 60% in the first half of the contest, thanks in part to solid post play and sniping by Winston Brooks, Kyle Bankhead, and Tony Skinner. The Zags shut down the Cardinal's strength: shooting the basketball behind the arc. Limiting open looks and capitalizing on the offensive end boosted the Zags to a 9 point advantage at halftime.
The second half would be another story. Gonzaga continued to play well in the opening minutes of the second half. The Bulldogs clawed their way into a 12 point lead at one point, but would spiral downhill thereafter. Stanford denied entry passes to the Zags' posts and began sinking their threes. Foul trouble began to mount on the Zags, especially their big men, and their offense went south for the day.
Gonzaga's guards couldn't knock down the critical threes, including Blake Stepp who went 0-7 from beyond the arc. Stanford shot close to 70% and broke down the Bulldogs' defense for easy baskets. With momentum on their side, the Cardinal tied the game at 51 and never looked back. Time was against the Zags. Hoping for missed free-throws, Gonzaga fouled but didn't get the misses. For the game, the Cardinal got 23 chances for points at the free-throw line, capitalizing on 17 of them, while the Zags shot 3 for 4 from the stripe.
Blowing a 9 point lead at the half, Gonzaga lost a heart-breaker to Stanford, 81-71. Gonzaga returns home New Year's Eve to face St. Joseph's University. Gonzaga beat St. Joe's last season on a last-second three pointer by Dan Dickau.