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Thursday, February 29, 2024
Feb. 29, 2024

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Watson gets 17, including clutch late baskets, Gonzaga hands No. 17 Kentucky 3rd straight home loss

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Gonzaga felt the energy and history of Rupp Arena, then crafted a milestone that No. 17 Kentucky didn’t want.

Anton Watson scored 17 points, including a go-ahead three-point play with 3:49 remaining before adding two key layups in the final 91 seconds, Ben Gregg and Nolan Hickman sank key late free throws and Gonzaga survived a second-half rally to beat the Wildcats 89-85 on Saturday.

The Wildcats (16-7) have now lost three straight at Rupp Arena for the first time since it opened in 1976. Kentucky hadn’t lost three in a row at home since the 1966-67 season when it played at Memorial Coliseum.

“When you walk into this building and it’s been packed like it has been for three games, we just normally come out on fire and we haven’t,” Kentucky coach John Calipari said.

Meanwhile, Gonzaga left its first trip to Lexington with a lot to savor.

The Bulldogs (18-6) outperformed Kentucky in most every phase to lead 42-32 at halftime before the Wildcats stormed back ahead to force a back-and-forth contest. Reed Sheppard’s three-point play with 4:07 left tied the game at 75, but Watson provided the go-ahead layup and ensuing free throw to put Gonzaga ahead for good, 78-75.

“When you have a skilled 4 (power forward) like Anton, the defensive schemes change,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said of Watson, who made 6 of 13 from the field.

“We finally made plays down the stretch at the end. We made shots and finally made some free throws.”

Watson followed Ryan Nembhard’s two free throws and Graham Ike’s layup with a key tip-in with 1:31 left for an 84-80 edge and another basket 36 seconds later for another four-point cushion that Kentucky couldn’t erase. Gregg stole a lob pass intended for Adou Thiero (15 points, three blocks) and made one of two free throws with 5 seconds left. Hickman made two with a second left to seal a big win.

Sheppard had 21 points and Antonio Reeves 17 for Kentucky.

Ike scored a team-high 23 points before fouling out with 43 seconds left, Hickman had 17 and Braden Huff 12 as Gonzaga edged Kentucky 47% to 46% shooting. The Bulldogs did most of their damage near the basket, outscoring the Wildcats 50-40 in the paint and beating them 43-31 in rebounding, including 18 offensive boards.

Gonzaga was almost perfect from the free-throw line after halftime, making 18 of 19 attempts and 21 of 24 overall.

“This win was definitely a step in the right direction,” Ike said. ”We closed the game out like we were supposed to, and it’s just a great feeling.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Kentucky figures to drop a few spots in the rankings and could possibly fall out altogether.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs did everything they needed to in controlling the first half before being outplayed early in the second. They didn’t wilt under the intense noise at Rupp, just regrouped in the clutch to win their seventh in eight games — in one of the most difficult road environments, yet.

“Great atmosphere, man,” Hickman said. “I mean, that’s what college hoops is about. Just coming in and doing what we do. You know it’s different at arenas, it’s different atmospheres, but this is right up there with The Kennel, you know what I’m saying. It was amazing. I loved it. Crowds like that, it was cool and a great experience.”

Kentucky: Right now, the Wildcats’ home arena isn’t providing any advantage as three consecutive opponents have hung at least 89 points in victories. They had nowhere to go but up after a horrid first half and quickly found their game, helped by Thiero’s play on both ends. Defending better and making shots obviously helped, but they couldn’t hold the edge they had.

UP NEXT

Gonzaga visits Loyola-Marymount on Thursday night.

Kentucky hosts Mississippi on Tuesday night.

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