Gonzaga paid its first ever visit to Morgantown, completing a home-and-home series with the Mountaineers, looking to defeat West Virginia for the third time in less than two years. Both previous meetings were blowout wins for the Zags.
In the first few minutes it looked as if Gonzaga would indeed improve to 3-0 all time against West Virginia. The Zags' shots were dropping, especially from three. West Virginia needed a basket interference call, on a shot that didn't look like it would have ended up falling, to get its first points of the game.
Gary Bell Jr. made two straight three pointers, giving Gonzaga a 12-8 lead. As a result, a displeased Bob Huggins called timeout. That timeout, at 15:38, completely changed the flow of the game.
What had been a display of the two team' offensive abilities morphed into a back and forth slop fest. There were four ties and 13 lead changes in the first half.
The Mountaineers erupted out of the break. A 35-39 halftime score quickly became a 35-43 Mountaineer lead. For nearly the entire second half the Mountaineers maintained a two possession lead.
With 5:06 left to play, Sam Dower went over the back trying to pull down an offensive rebound. It was his fourth foul of the game. Gonzaga was forced to put the 6' 5" guard Kyle Dranginis at the four spot.
Then, the momentum shifted just 35 seconds after Dower's foul, as Terry Henderson picked up his fourth foul. Having to pull Henderson out of the game was a major blow for the Mountaineers, as he had poured in 13 points during the second half. Przemek Karnowski, who drew the foul, knocked down both free throws.
On the next possession, Kevin Pangos hit a three to give the Zags their first lead of the second half, 68-66.
Just over a minute later, Gonzaga's next basket was another Pangos three. The next possession, another Pangos three. It was then a 74-66 Gonzaga lead with just over two minutes remaining.
From the Henderson foul to the third straight Pangos three, the Zags outscored the Mountaineers 11-0.
The nation's most efficient offense finally started to look like it late in the second half. After a first half that saw the Zags shoot just 38.2% from the field, they finished with a 51.9% mark.
West Virginia made a final minute comeback to pull within two points on a Juwan Staten jumper. It looked as if the home team had the momentum as Gary Bell Jr. missed a lay-up on the next Gonzaga possession, with just over 30 seconds remaining.
Sam Dower, who didn't have many minutes to make big plays in this game, had perhaps the biggest play of his career. His put-back dunk off the Bell miss gave the Zags a 78-74 lead. From there, Bob Huggins was forced to foul and the Zags happily maintained their lead from the line.
In the end, Juwan Staten missed an uncontested three at the buzzer (Gonzaga was up four and not trying to foul), a cannon fired, and the Zags escaped with their third win over West Virginia in less than two years.
Just a bit of opinion to end this recap. West Virginia is a very good team this year, unlike when Gonzaga played them the past two seasons, so this is not a slight on the Mountaineers. But, Gonzaga used to play tough teams anywhere, anytime. They used to be ready for games like this. They should not have been this rattled by a good team in a big arena. In years past, they weren't rattled.
In this millennium, Gonzaga's first true road game has never come later in the season than it did this year.
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