Matt Bouldin is the glue that holds Gonzaga together
HOWIE STALWICK; For The News Tribune
SPOKANE – Matt Bouldin is not an exceptional shooter. He’s not the best defender. He’ll never be a great rebounder. He’s not some incredible playmaker.
Yeah, you really have to pity that Bouldin kid. All he does is play a marvelous all-around game of basketball, one that has made him an essential piece of one of the best college basketball teams in the land.
“He’s the MVP of our league in our minds,” Gonzaga teammate Micah Downs said. “He’s our guy, and he’s been doing it all year. He’s just a competitor.”
“He’s the consummate guard,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
“Matt Bouldin is extremely skilled,” Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald said. “I think he really can make a difference in their team in every part of the game.”
McDonald witnessed that firsthand on Saturday in Portland. Bouldin led the Bulldogs with 20 points, eight rebounds, six assists and 38 minutes played, and Gonzaga needed every one of Bouldin’s contributions to beat Western Kentucky, 83-81, on Demetri Goodson’s last-second shot.
Bouldin, a 6-foot-5, 224-pound junior from the Denver suburb of Highlands Ranch, has put together the best season of his college career. He has posted career-high averages of 13.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game, and his 3.5 assists are just a shade below his 3.7 best from last season. He’s also shooting the ball better than ever – 49.7 percent from the field, including a team-best 44 percent from 3-point range.
Those numbers helped Bouldin earn a spot on the all-West Coast Conference team for the second successive season. That’s all fine and good, Few said, but mere numbers don’t tell the story of Bouldin’s true worth.
“He’s a do-everything guy,” Few said. “Sometimes statistically he maybe doesn’t blow the doors off people, but I think (opposing) coaches, and obviously our staff, appreciate what he does.”
Bouldin, an affable youngster with a mop of unruly curly brown hair, says he learned his all-around skills from his father. Ron Bouldin starred at Colorado State and coached his son until high school.
“My dad raised me to pass the ball,” Bouldin said. “In high school, I played 1 (point guard) through 5 (center). I guarded centers, guarded point guards, brought the ball up the floor, posted up …”
Bouldin was Colorado’s high school player of the year as a junior and a senior. He averaged 25.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 4.8 assists as a senior at ThunderRidge High, but Bouldin’s high school coach loves to tell a story about a workout Bouldin had his junior season with Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun on hand.
“He (Calhoun) told his assistant, ‘I feel like I’m watching Pete Maravich,’ ” Joe Ortiz said. “ ‘I’ve never seen a high school kid play like this.’ ”
Considering that Maravich is the all-time NCAA scoring leader and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, one can presume Calhoun came away impressed with Bouldin.
Not so coincidentally, Bouldin grew up watching tapes of Maravich that Ron Boulden provided to his son as teaching tools.
Gonzaga won a national recruiting battle for Bouldin, who was ranked the ninth-best senior shooting guard in the nation by one scouting service.
While he has been a starter all three years in college, Bouldin has definitely improved with age, Few said, adding that Bouldin benefited from some midseason pep talks from Gonzaga legend John Stockton.
“The best thing he’s done this year is he’s slowed down,” Few said.
“He’s making better reads (of opposing defenses) and making better decisions with our ball screens. He’s not just trying, as I always tell him, to pound a square peg into a round hole, or deciding what he’s going to do before the situation really arises.”
On Friday, the situation arising for Bouldin and the 10th-ranked Bulldogs is a Sweet 16 showdown with second-ranked North Carolina. The Tar Heels and their explosive fastbreak have topped 100 points nine times this season.
“I don’t think we can say we’ve seen a fastbreak like theirs,” Bouldin said.
“We like to run, too,” He was quick to add.
Which serves as a reminder: Bouldin isn’t the fastest player on the court. He’s not the quickest, either. Or the strongest.
And yet, he’s one of the winningest players. Bouldin’s college team owns a three-year record of 76-24, and he fully intends to add four more wins this season – and the national championship that goes with it.