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December 6, 2012

Instant classic ends in heartbreaker for WSU

PULLMAN -- In a rivalry game that truly exemplified the nostalgia that is college basketball, Washington State lost in heartbreaking fashion on a Kevin Pangos layup with 2.2 seconds left, as 10th-ranked Gonzaga escaped with a 71-69 victory at Friel Court.

"Horrible way to lose," DaVonte Lacy said after the game. "Even though we tried to fight back into the game, that was a tough shot by Pangos because he had three hands on him and it's just a testament to who he is as a player, he's a great player and he's going to be playing for a lot of money."

The Bulldogs (9-0) were the far superior team heading into the game yielding a height advantage similar to David versus Goliath and possessing one of the top backcourts on the west coast.

But the Cougars (5-4) never backed down, clawing back from a late 11-point deficit to nearly pull off an improbable victory.

Lacy, who has missed the last four games with a left knee injury, returned to action and immediately made his impact felt. The sophomore looked nothing like the rusty player many expected him to look like coming off a lengthy stint on the bench.

Instead, he showed poise and composure down the stretch, scoring 22 points on 8-of-15 shooting including a trio of three's in the waning minutes of the game.

Trailing 56-45 with 7:12 remaining, Gonzaga looked to be putting the game in their back pocket and cruising back home with a rather easy victory until Lacy knocked down back-to-back three's to bring the Cougars within striking distance at 58-51.

Not to be outdone, Brock Motum got in on the action to hit back-to-back trey's of his own, cutting the Gonzaga lead to just three at 60-57 with 3:35 left in the game. Lacy then electrified the already pumped-up crowd with another three after a Pangos turnover, capping a 15-4 run that erased an 11-point hurdle, evening the score at 60.

"It was nice to see DaVonte and Brock hit some of those threes because we're going to need that down the road," head coach Ken Bone said in a postgame radio interview. "We're going to need those guys to be confident to shoot three's because we have not shot well as a team so far this season."

Despite the late onslaught of three's, the Cougars struggled from deep, hitting just 10-of-27 (37%) three-pointers and shot 45.3% from the field. Gonzaga countered by hitting 50.9% from the floor and 7-of-16 from behind the arc.

WSU made just 11-of-18 free-throws on the night yet they would take their first lead since the 17:10 mark of the second half as Motum and Lacy knocked down four consecutives shots from the charity stripe to take a 64-63 lead.

However, Kelly Olynyk was unstoppable, scoring a career-high 22 points, all coming in the second half. Washington State had no answer for the seven-foot center as he took the game into his own hands. Olynyk drove the lane for a layup and was fouled on the play with 1:07 left.

The Cougars, who despite outrebounding the Bulldogs 32-31, struggled to rebound the basketball in the late portions of the game and it reared its ugly head once again.

Olynyk missed the ensuing free-throw but Gonzaga's Mike Hart came down with the rebound, finding Olynyk for a wide-open three from the top of the arc to give the Bulldogs a 68-64 lead with :33 second left in the game.

Motum scored three of his game-high 23 points on a 27-foot bomb from just in front of the Washington State bench with :14 second left. A foul on the inbounds play sent Gonzaga to the line where Gary Bell, Jr. made one-of-two, handing the ball over to the Cougars.

Lacy immediately drove the length of the court for a layup to tie the game at 69 but poor full court defense after the layup allowed Pangos to take it all the way to the hoop to make an acrobatic layup for the win.

The Cougars certainly made things interesting down the stretch and played high-energy basketball throughout the first half, holding a 31-27 advantage at the break.

Washington State's man defense was highly effective throughout the first 20-minutes, forcing Gonzaga into 10 turnovers in the first half. But the adrenaline would soon wear off, forcing the Cougars to play a zone defense, as they looked gassed midway through the second half.

"Both teams brought a lot of energy to the floor and I felt like we came out strong early in the game and they played off the energy of a good crowd," Bone said. "But you have to give Gonzaga credit, they came out in the second half and played harder than they had in the first half.

"I don't want to say we relaxed but I thought they gave it more effort that first eight minutes and I don't want to say that's where the game was won but it sure contributed to it."

Elias Harris was as advertised, scoring 23 points on 10-of-17 shooting while adding six rebounds and three assists.

Dexter Kernich-Drew started in place of Lacy and had a rough shooting night but was a vital component in shutting down Pangos. Kernich-Drew, with his lengthy frame, essentially took Pangos out of the game, holding him just eight points on 2-of-11 from the floor and, more importantly, 1-of-5 from behind the arc.

In a game that looked ripe for the picking from start, the Cougars truly beat themselves. WSU committed 15 turnovers, five of them coming on their first eight possessions of the first half allowing Gonzaga to jump out to a lead and control the game until the final minutes.

The Cougars can take away a lot from this game, showing the resiliency to play toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country. Their never-say-die attitude cannot be overlooked.

"Unfortunately we obviously lose the game but I'm very proud of the guys that they were resilient, that they never threw in the towel, they kept battling, and had some great defensive stops," Bone said. "It was just a great effort out there by our guys tonight.

"I like the fact that our guys are getting better, working hard, staying together as a team, and it's a great group to coach."



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