Washington State came out hot in the second half, erasing a six point deficit to take a 48-47 lead on Derrick Low's three-pointer at the 13:37 mark. Gonzaga responded smartly, building a seven point cushion as quick as you can say Jesuit Priest. Back and forth it went, furiously, with Washington State and their visitors to the North trading momentum back and forth like a hot potato.
With five minutes remaining, Low's trey giving the Cougs a one-point lead that was greeted with delirium in the standing room only crowd.
The Bulldogs wouldn't quit, and it wasn't until the 2:50 mark before Wazzu took the lead for good, closing the game on a 14-1 run that ended when the Cougar fans stormed the court as the clock struck zeros. Harmeling hit two cold-blooded three-pointers to help put the game out of reach in crunch time.
The key to the win, however, was defense.
"I told our guys this is why they came here, to play in front of a big crowd on our home floor. The key to the win was holding them to 26 points in the second half," said first year WSU coach Tony Bennett.
The Cougars harassed Gonzaga into 17 turnovers and five steals, coming back from 10-point and 7-point deficits in the first and second halves. Kyle Weaver spearheaded the Cougar cause with two steals and a block to go along with 16 points and seven assists.
Robbie Cowgill did not score but his team high eight rebounds were big, three of them coming on the offensive end. WSU was again outrebounded by their opponent, making every board the Cougar big man did pull down in his 27 minutes that much more vital. Cowgill also had a block and a steal.
The Cougs had only seven turnovers, and Gonzaga did not register a single steal against Washington State.
The recap on the official Gonzaga school site aside, it wasn't that the Bulldogs went cold on Tuesday, nor that they may have looked past Washington State. Their play and ability to retake the lead four times in the second half spoke to that. Rather, they were simply outplayed Tuesday night, Wazzu repeatedly showing the ability to explode on offense -- and how long have Cougar fans been waiting to witness that -- coupled with a smothering defensive style that has become the Cougars' trademark since the Bennetts arrived in town three years ago.
The defensive effort against the Zags surely produced a smile on the face of a former WSU coach in the stands Tuesday night. Tony's father, Dick Bennett, retired earlier this spring and though still in Pullman, the travel schedule remains busy.
Earlier this year in Wisconsin, it was quiet as a church as Washington State stepped to the line midway through the second half with a comfortable 20-point lead against Wisconsin-Milwaukie. The voice of the elder Bennett bellowed displeasure down from the rafters on the sloppiness of the last few minutes by Washington State, "Sharpen up, Cougs!"
The Cougs were plenty sharp on Tuesday. And plenty resilient. The way they got there was not forgotten.
"A lot of credit for this win goes to my dad," said the younger Bennett. "He laid the foundation for this program. He is having hip surgery Thursday and he told me before the game it would be a nice present to have a win before he has it. We saw each other after the game and it was a special moment for me."
Derrick Low has thrived in the 2-spot this year after manning the point his first two seasons at Washington State