SEATTLE (AP)—During the final practice before every game, Ramon Sessions and his Nevada teammates attempt long 3-point shots. From halfcourt and everywhere else. Playground-like leaners and twisters—just in case.
That case came Saturday night.
The junior guard scored all 20 of his points in the second half—including an improbable, leaning 3 at the shot-clock buzzer with 1:22 left that gave the 24th-ranked Wolf Pack the lead for good in an 82-74 victory over Gonzaga on Saturday night.
“Every day, before the game, we practice shots like that,” Sessions said of his acrobatic, startling 3 that Gonzaga coach Mark Few called “a fluke.” It was a fluke that helped extend the Bulldogs’ first three-game losing streak in six years.
Sessions had taken just 13 3-pointers in 12 games before going 2-for-3 Saturday.
“I never make them before the game,” Sessions said. “But that one paid off.”
Nick Fazekas had 24 points and nine rebounds for Nevada, but the preseason All-America fouled out with 5:15 to go, creating the void that Sessions and Marcellus Kemp filled decisively.
Kemp, a Seattle native, missed his first six shots but finished with 21 points for the Wolf Pack (12-1), who are off to their best start in 55 years.
“I tell them often, ‘This team is more than Nick Fazekas.’ They weren’t panicked,” said Nevada coach Mark Fox, who gleefully exchanged hugs and high-fives with fans immediately after the game’s wild, final swing.
The Wolf Pack trailed by as many as 14 points late in the first half, one of the many ebbs and flows inside raucous KeyArena.
In addition to his trick shot that gave the Wolf Pack a 70-67 lead, Sessions added four free throws in the final 37 seconds.
“That happens. He just wished one and it went in,” Few said of Sessions’ off-balance 3 behind a screen.
Fox, of course, didn’t agree.
“I call that shot one that a winner makes,” Fox said. “He’s a tough kid. I think that’s why that ball went in.”
Jeremy Pargo scored 18 points and Derek Raivio added 15 for Gonzaga (9-5). The Bulldogs have lost three consecutive games for the first time since December 2000. Their brutal month has included losses to Washington State, Georgia and Duke—following impressive wins over North Carolina, Washington and Texas.
The gauntlet ends Wednesday at Virginia. Then play begins in the relatively benign West Coast Conference that Gonzaga has ruled in recent years.
“We’ve come together a little bit more,” Raivio said. “This can be a good thing.”
The Zags took advantage of Fazekas fouling out to take a 67-61 lead with six straight points, the final two on Josh Heytvelt’s putback.
“When the opposing team’s best guy goes out, there’s always ‘We’ve got to get this done right now,”’ Pargo said.
But Kemp’s runner in the lane tied it at 67 with 2 minutes left. Sessions followed with his acrobatic 3-pointer.
When Denis Ikovlev was left open for another 3 with 48 seconds left, Nevada led 73-67. The Wolf Pack cruised from there.
It was the first time the schools met since Nevada upset second-seeded Gonzaga on the same court in the second round of the 2004 NCAA tournament.
“That’s an NCAA tournament team, no doubt about it,” Few said of the three-time defending champions of the Western Athletic Conference.
Fazekas, who entered the game averaging 20.7 points per game, scored consecutive baskets inside while a substitute waited to replace him after he picked up his fourth foul on a charge with 10:13 remaining. That stroke of luck gave the Wolf Pack their largest lead, 58-50.
With Fazekas out for 2 minutes, Gonzaga went on a 9-1 run to tie the game at 59.
Nevada made six of its first eight shots after halftime to take its first lead, 33-32, then went ahead on 45-43 on Fazekas’ hook shoot in the lane with 14 minutes to go. Sessions then scored consecutive baskets in the lane to increase the Wolf Pack’s lead to 54-48 with 11 minutes left—just before Fazekas’ foul trouble seemingly doomed him and Nevada.
Sessions ensured it did not.
“For me to foul out and we still win in this big-time of an environment, this just gives all of us confidence,” Fazekas said.
Gonzaga led 32-18 with 3 1/2 minutes left in the opening half, largely because Nevada missed 15 of its first 20 shots. Kemp didn’t score until 15 had elapsed.
The Bulldogs dwelled on 19 turnovers and missed opportunities down the stretch of a game they had briefly controlled.