Men's Basketball | Cougs put big stop on Zags
Seattle Times colleges reporter
SPOKANE -- Up in the stands a few minutes before the game, Frank Burgess shook hands with John Stockton. Almost five decades ago, Burgess led the NCAA in scoring in becoming Gonzaga's career points leader. And Stockton, well, you know about Stockton.
It was a night for heavyweights, and Washington State proved it belongs with them. The unbeaten Cougars, ranked No. 8 by The Associated Press, steeled themselves past Gonzaga 51-47 in a screamer at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
Almost nobody comes into this building and wins. Santa Clara was the only club to have done it in 43 games, but the Broncos did it last February two days after the Zags were scrambling to rearrange themselves following the drug-related suspension of Josh Heytvelt.
He's out again, with a stress fracture in his foot, and later this year No. 17 Gonzaga (7-2) figures to be a beast to deal with.
These Cougars (8-0), though, were the most audacious visitors yet in the MAC.
And, oh yeah, it was only ear-splitting for two hours.
"Unless you were here," said Tony Bennett, the second-year WSU coach, "you couldn't understand the energy in the building."
Kyle Weaver, WSU's all-purpose swingman, was asked how this victory would compare to, say, the Cougars pulling one out last year at USC or Arizona.
"This is definitely up there at the top," Weaver said, beaming. "This is a great road win."
Sneaky people, these Cougars. Through seven games, they had sort of lain in the weeds, not scheduling particularly hard, falling behind by double digits at Boise State and Baylor before rallying.
They must have been saving something. They were up to every challenge, grabbing the lead in the early moments, withstanding Gonzaga's comeback to just a point in the second half, outrebounding the Zags 43-30, and making the clutch plays in the dying moments.
"They're good, they're solid, fantastic on defense," admired Gonzaga senior David Pendergraft. "It wasn't like we let it slip through our fingers. They played a heck of a ballgame."
Gonzaga is a team that loves to get up and down, especially in this building. It scored 97 against Washington here a year ago. On this night, the Zags scored their lowest total since a season-opening loss at Southern Utah, 71-47, 11 years ago. Gonzaga's 25.9 shooting percentage, on 15 of 58, was its lowest at least since a numbing NCAA first-round defeat to Wyoming (26.8) in 2002.
The Cougars invite you into their web and then choke off all exits. They took a 26-14 first-half lead, shooting 54 percent before the break, before Gonzaga kept chipping back. At one stretch, six consecutive Zag attempts were three-pointers, and the last of them, by Pendergraft, pulled the hosts to 42-41 down.
Moments later, it was 45-43 WSU when the Cougars began making the toughest plays. With the shot clock at two seconds and 2 ½ minutes were left in the game, Derrick Low launched an errant three, but Robbie Cowgill kept it alive and Weaver tipped it in.
Zags freshman Austin Daye missed two shots around a Weaver turnover, so the Cougars led by four at the one-minute mark. Gonzaga didn't foul, and with the clock ticking to the half-minute mark, WSU guard Taylor Rochestie found himself out on top, with the 6-10 Daye coming at him.
"The coaches told us exactly what was gonna happen in the scouting report when he [Rochestie] has a '4' man on him," said Pendergraft, whose 15 points led his team. "He'd lull you to sleep and hit a three."
In the end, WSU's savvy and Gonzaga's youth in spots showed. Daye went just 1 for 11, guarded by Cowgill and Daven Harmeling, and Weaver rattled sophomore guard Matt Bouldin into an 0-for-9 night.
"I was even talking to him a little bit, saying, 'Keep playing hard,' " Weaver said, smiling.
Rochestie said the Cougars took note of a newspaper comment by Gonzaga's Micah Downs that WSU was the "second-best team" in the state.
"It was a pretty good showing for the second-best team in the state, I would think," said Rochestie.
Said Bennett, "I don't want to make too much of it. Let's use it to see where we're at."
Where they're at is resilient, top-10 ranked and riding high.
Bud Withers: 206-464-8281 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Attendance: 6,000. Officials: Randy Burkhart, Rick Batsell, Tim Gabutero.
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