Washington State-Gonzaga: Bulldogs Start Slow and Finish Strong Against Cougars

Lew WrightSenior Writer IDecember 10, 2008

Gonzaga traveled down the road from Spokane to take on rival Washington State in Pullman, WA.  The Bulldogs brought with them a lofty national ranking as the No. 4 team in the country.  

Are the 'Zags really that good?

Coach Mark Few's team looked all that and more, completely dismantling the young guns of Washington State 74-52.

Both teams were all about defense in the first half.  

WSU leads the nation in holding down the field goal percentage of opponents at a stingy 31 percent.  The Zags are just a couple of notches below that with a defense that yields just 34 percent shooting by the opposition.

Both teams had nice little offensive runs over the course of the first 20minutes, only to return the favor.  

Where things got away from the Cougs was coming out of a timeout with about three minutes left in the half.  News flash for Pac-10 fans.  WSU made silly, back-to-back turnovers trying to set up their offense.  Gonzaga picked up points off both mistakes to stretch out to a five-point lead.  

Neither team led by more than five points, exchanging the lead several times.

Taylor Rochestie continued his shooting woes in the first 20 minutes, converting only two of nine attempts.  Despite his shots being a bit off, it didn't hamper his ability to provide leadership.  He was flawless on defense and clearly was in command setting up offense for the Cougs.

DeAngelo Casto contributed some very good minutes off the bench for WSU. He did a great job on defense and knocked down a little jump hook in the paint. The freshman got to the free throw line after drawing a butcher-job foul attempting a layup. Coolly and calmly, Casto sunk both charity shots like a veteran.

Going to the locker room at intermission, Coach Tony Bennett was surely exhorting his troops to do more of the same in the second half.  Coach Mark Few had to have attempted to calm down the Bulldogs.  Gonzaga committed a dozen fouls in the first half, reflecting the frustration of being forced to play Bennett Ball.

So was it more of the same for Washington State in the second half?

Gonzaga came out of their locker room on fire to begin the final half.  

Coach Few decided to press the Cougs, and it paid off in big time dividends. WSU turned the ball over the first two trips up the floor.

Before any of the Zzu Cru was able to wipe hot dog mustard off their face from intermission munching, it was 47-31 Gonzaga.

The Bulldogs didn't let up after Aron Baynes was credited with a bucket on goaltending by Josh Heytvelt.  

Continuing to press and pressure the ball all over the court, the 'Zags forced turnovers, bad shots, missed open shots, and just plain panicked play by WSU.

At the media timeout with 7:30 left in the second half, a look at the scoreboard said it all for Gonzaga.  They held a 30-point lead, 66-36.  In twelve-and-a-half minutes, the Cougar offense managed a paltry five points.  That's right.  Five points.

Showing both sportsmanship and mercy, Coach Few began pulling out his starters with about five minutes to play.  Coach Bennett did the same.

In the waning minutes of the game, the Cougar freshmen outplayed the bench of Gonzaga and closed the margin of victory for the Bulldogs to just 22 points.

Cougar fans are used to their team holding opponents to a total of 22 points in a half.  That was the distance in points between the two teams, with WSU on the short end.

Though it was a solid team effort by Gonzaga, senior Josh Heytvelt was their go-to guy.  He finished with a game-high 22 points on 9-17 shooting.  Heytvelt showed nice touch from beyond the three-point arc by knocking down three of six.

For the Cougs, Aron Baynes and DeAngelo Casto were the top scorers with 10 points each.

It's back to the practice court for Coach Bennett.  His young guns need more coaching up between now and the beginning of Pac-10 play. 

Talk of working on improving play isn't hyperbole in this case.  The Cougs have some raw talent that is going to learn and improve.  With more work in the coming weeks, they are going to be a force in the Pac-10 this season.