ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP)—Gonzaga had an awful night shooting free throws until it mattered most.
After making just half their foul shots for most of the game, the 14th-ranked Bulldogs made their last eight to hold off Western Kentucky 74-71 in the first round of the Carrs/Safeway Great Alaska Shootout.
“One thing (about the free throw shooting) I think we showed a lot of courage,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “It was going bad and we fixed it, and that takes a lot of courage.”
The Bulldogs (4-0) were 10-for-20 from free throw line before finally finding their stroke in final 6:12. Jeremy Pargo made four, Matt Bouldin two and Micah Downs two.
“It was a very, very gutty hard-earned win,” Few said. “We weathered a lot of adversity tonight.”
Gonzaga was also able to get second chances, outrebounding Western Kentucky 43-30. Robert Sacre had a huge put-back with 22 seconds left that sealed the win.
“I think it was a big, big factor in getting us through some rough spots on the offensive end,” Few said.
The Hilltoppers got into early foul trouble in the second half, picking up six quick fouls that put the Zags in the bonus early on.
“We really lost our aggressiveness,” Western Kentucky coach Darrin Horn said. “That’s something we’re going to have to play through.”
Gonzaga led by as many as seven early in the first half, getting strong inside play and seven points from Bouldin. But Courtney Lee scored five unanswered points for Western Kentucky and the teams battled back and forth with the Hilltoppers leading briefly twice before Gonzaga took a 36-34 halftime lead.
Bouldin and Lee each scored 12 points in the first half, but Bouldin’s scoring dropped off when he was forced to assume most of the ball-handling duties after Jeremy Pargo got into early foul trouble.
The Bulldogs hit only one of seven 3-pointers in the first half but stayed in it by outrebounding Western Kentucky 26-14.
Western Kentucky (3-1) ran off eight straight points to start the second half and led by as many as seven with 13:13 to go. But Gonzaga whittled it down and tied it at 60 on Pargo’s free throws with 6:12 left.
Playing without Abdullahi Kuso and Austin Daye, who fouled out with 2 minutes to go, Gonzaga got two key baskets inside in less than a minute by David Pendergraft to take the lead for good at 70-66.
Bouldin led Gonzaga with 18 points. Downs chipped in 14 for Gonzaga and Pargo 12.
Lee led Western Kentucky with 19.