PULLMAN — Washington State coach Ken Bone is one of many college basketball observers who maintain that the current edition of the Gonzaga Bulldogs has the potential to be the best team in school history.
The Bulldogs often failed to live up to Bone’s assessment – or their No. 10 national ranking – Wednesday night. However, Gonzaga point guard Kevin Pangos drove for a lay-in with 2.2 seconds remaining to lift the Bulldogs past the scrappy Cougars, 71-69, in front of 9,367 fans at Beasley Coliseum.
“They (the Cougars) played inspired,” said Gonzaga guard Gary Bell Jr., a former Kentridge High School star.
“I think we can play with anybody in the country,” said WSU guard DaVonté Lacy, a Curtis High graduate. “We proved it, but too bad we couldn’t win.”
A sensational, hard-fought game featured brilliant second-half performances by Lacy and Gonzaga forward Kelly Olynyk. Both players came off the bench.
Lacy, back in action after missing four games with a knee injury, poured in 17 of his career-high 22 points in the final half, including 4-of-9 shooting from 3-point range.
“If Lacy can shoot like that, he’s going to help them a ton,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said.
Olynyk, a 7-foot junior who redshirted last season because of Gonzaga’s abundance of talent and depth on the front line, scored all of his 22 points in the second half.
“He’s a pro,” Lacy said. “He’s 7-foot, can handle the ball, not opposed to contact. He’ll be playing for a lot of money.”
Olynyk and Lacy both hit clutch baskets down the stretch. Lacy blew past Bell, a fine defender, for a lay-in that tied the score at 69-69 with 7.8 seconds to play.
Bell sank the second of two free throws with 14 seconds to go. He finished with 14 points.
Senior forwards Elias Harris of Gonzaga and Brock Motum of Washington State shared game-high honors with 23 points. Both players battled ferociously, often against one another, at both ends of the court.
Pangos, who set career highs with 33 points and nine treys in a win over WSU last season, hit just 2 of 12 shots (1 of 5 treys) and scored eight points Wednesday.
“He played very poorly,” Few said.
Still, Few said he was plenty confident with the ball in Pangos’ hands at the end.
“He’s always clutch when it counts,” Bell said.
Motum nailed back-to-back 3-pointers to narrow Gonzaga’s lead to 60-57 with 3:31 to play. Lacy then drilled a 3-pointer to tie the game with 2:56 remaining.
As time was running out, Lacy heaved the ball from the top of the arc at the far end of the court. Motum made a futile attempt to tip in the ball when it fell short of the basket.
The Bulldogs, who started the day leading the nation in field-goal shooting percentage at 53.3, hit 50.9 percent against WSU. The Cougars had not allowed an opponent to shoot better than 45.5 percent this season.
The Cougars had been 5-0 at home, but those wins came against teams ranked 187th to 337th out of 347 NCAA Division I teams in the latest Pomeroy Ratings. Those ratings had Gonzaga at No. 7 and WSU at No. 104.
Gonzaga, loaded with size, athleticism, depth, experience and balanced scoring, improved to 9-0. The Bulldogs next face No. 13 Illinois, also 9-0, on Saturday at home (7 p.m., ESPN2).
The Cougars (5-4) face visiting Fresno State on Sunday (noon, Pac-12 Networks).
Brian Quinnett was honored at halftime with the first Honor the Past award. WSU plans to honor one former Cougars basketball standout every season.
Quinnett, a Cheney native who spent three seasons in the NBA, ranks ninth in WSU history with 1,408 points. He was honored on the 26th anniversary of his school-record, 45-point game against Loyola Marymount on Dec. 5, 1986.