"We needed a three, and at that point I had the hot hand, so coach (Romar) let me take it," said Conroy of his shot that forced overtime.
It was set up when Stepp, who poured in a game-high 33 points, went to the free throw line with Gonzaga up two with nine seconds remaining. After hitting the first, the second attempt – which would have made it a two-possession game - glanced off the rim into the hands of the Huskies.
(AP/Jeff T. Green)
Washington (0-3) freshmen forwards Mike Jensen and Jeffrey Day each fouled out in the final minutes of the regulation, and that left the Huskies very thin heading into overtime. Husky Coach Lorenzo Romar sent out a four-guard lineup that consisted of Conroy, Curtis Allen, CJ Massingale, Bobby Jones, and Doug Wrenn.
In the overtime session, Conroy received his fifth foul as well and was forced to sit in the final minute – hearing it from the rabid Kennel Club all the while.
Stepp connected on all eight of his free throw attempts down the stretch to seal the victory for Gonzaga (3-2), sending the hometown crowd into a frenzy.
"Our guys came into this game believing that we could win the game despite being 0-2, and they played that way," said Romar. "We've been making progress, and I'm very pleased with this effort.
"That is a heck of a basketball team that Gonzaga has."
Conroy, who also had a team-high four assists, agreed with his coach's feelings.
"We are getting better," said Conroy. "Every game we are getting better. UNLV showed us that we had to be tougher. Gonzaga is experienced in the post, and our young guys battled down there tonight."
Stepp finished 16-20 from the charity stripe, as the Zags shot an incredible 49 free throws for the contest – converting on 32. Washington, meanwhile, was 17-21.
Forward Cory Violette, a junior from Boise, Idaho who bears a striking resemblance to UW quarterback Cody Pickett – also from Idaho – stepped up big down the stretch and proved to be the perfect compliment to Stepp. He finished with 17 points, 12 rebounds, and three blocked shots in 36 minutes of action.
Conroy's 32 points was the first 30-point performance from a UW guard since Deon Luton – one of the streakiest shooter to ever don a Husky uniform – poured in 30 versus Boise State in 1999.
Only two other Huskies scored in double-figures, Wrenn and Day. Wrenn's 11 points came despite another terrible shooting night from the field. He connected on only one of his first 11 shots, and finished 3-17 for the game. Day faired better, going 4-6 from the field en route to 10 points.
From the opening tip, the Huskies showed that they weren't going to back down to all the hype that comes with the 2002 Gonzaga Bulldogs, a team that has advanced to the Big Dance in four consecutive seasons.
Conroy and Day paced UW early from an offensive standpoint while Wrenn struggled to connect on anything, and Jensen and Washington held their own in the middle defensively versus a more experienced duo in Violette and bulky 6-8 senior Zach Gourde.
Romar liked what he saw in Jensen's performance.
"Mike is making progress," said the head coach. "He is very talented and is going to get better and better. That is probably as good of a front line as we are going to play this year."
Even still, the Bulldogs had their chances to break the game open early. A thunderous dunk from Ronny Turiaf made it 20-13. But instead of lying down, the Huskies roared back with six unanswered to draw to within one.
Five consecutive points from Turiaf, the redshirt sophomore from Martinique, upped the GU lead back to six, but again the Huskies would answer.
This time, it came in a big way, as they went on a 17-4 run – keyed by two three pointers from Allen and one from Conroy – to break out to a 36-29 lead.
A long range three-ball from Tony Skinner trimmed the Husky lead to four as the teams headed to the locker rooms for halftime.
Washington shot 50 percent from the field in the first half as it combined to shoot 14-19 in shots attempted from players other than Wrenn.
Coming out of halftime, Conroy, UW's outspoken sophomore point guard, put the team from Seattle on his shoulders. Two consecutive three pointers minutes into the second half gave the Huskies an eight-point lead.
But that's when the offense stopped clicking, and Gonzaga took advantage, slowly narrowing the gap in the next 10 minutes of play. Getting eight points from Stepp and five from Violette, the Zags stormed back to tie it at 57 with 11 minutes left in the game.
The game was tied four more times before an officials timeout was called at the 6:48 mark, with the score knotted at 66.
Coming out of the timeout, Gonzaga Coach Mark Few set up an isolation play with Turiaf, who had his way with Day, laid the ball in and drew a foul. He nailed the free throw, and after a Conroy missed three pointer at the other end, Stepp nailed a runner down the right side of the lane to extend the lead to 71-66.
The Huskies were forced to play from behind until the final buzzer, when Conroy's jumper sailed through the net to tie the game at 81, hushing the rabid crowd – at least for another five minutes.
Turiaf finished with 18 points, and Skinner rounded out the double-digit scorers for Gonzaga with 11.
No Nate: Nate Robinson, the talented two-sport athlete from Rainier Beach High, didn't travel with the team to the game.
No room for Dawgs?: Only about a dozen Husky fans appeared to be in attendance, possibly because of the lack of space for visiting fans. With only 4,000 seats in the building, that isn't even enough to hold the Gonzaga contingent.
Up Next: The Wyoming Cowboys come to Hec Edmunson Pavilion Thursday. Tipoff is set for 7 p.m. Then, the Huskies hit the road with a game at Santa Clara on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Points: Conroy 32, Wrenn 11, Day 10, Massingale 8, Jones 8, Allen 8 , Jensen 7, Washington 4, Shelton 1
Rebounds: Jones 8, Wrenn 5, Washington 4, Day 3, Conroy 3, Jensen 3, Massingale 3, Shelton 2
Assists: Conroy 4, Allen 3, Wrenn 3, Massingale 2, Day 1, Jones 1, Shelton 1
Steals: Jensen 2, Wrenn 1, Conroy 1
Blocks: Wrenn 1