Gonzaga basketball practices finish with the players shooting free throws, spread out over the 10 hoops in the school’s gymnasium. The Eagles can’t head home for the night until they all make two shots in a row at each one.
On Tuesday night, senior Kris Jenkins stepped to the free throw line on the same court with two seconds left and a Washington Catholic Athletic Conference game against No. 4 Paul VI in the balance. To hear the All-Met forward tell it, the stakes felt no different than the previous day’s workout.
Jenkins drained both free throws, and top-ranked Gonzaga celebrated a 69-68 victory when Paul VI missed a half-court shot at the buzzer. The Villanova recruit finished a perfect 12 of 12 from the line en route to a game-high 27 points as the Eagles held off a stunning rally by the Panthers to remain unbeaten in conference play.
“I was just confident,” said Jenkins, who has hit 87 percent of his free throws this season. “Go up there and knock them down like I do every day in practice. When your team believes in you [and] your school believes in you, you just go up there with as much confidence as you can.”
Gonzaga (17-3, 10-0 WCAC) needed those heroics after letting Paul VI (15-6, 7-4) erase a 12-point deficit in the final quarter. The Eagles took the lead at 3-2 and remained ahead until sophomore Franklin Howard’s contested layup with 11 seconds left put the Panthers in front, 68-67.
Gonzaga Coach Steve Turner had timeouts remaining, and as the Eagles pushed it upcourt, Jenkins looked to the sideline to find out if Turner wanted to use one.
Instead, Turner yelled for Jenkins, who was suspended for the teams’ previous meeting as punishment for an ejection, to find the ball. The reigning conference player of the year received a pass near the top of the key and attacked the basket, powering through contact. He left the shot short but earned the whistle and another trip to the free throw line.
“When you’ve got a senior in his fourth year playing varsity basketball, he wants it bad,” Turner said. “His dream has been to win the WCAC championship. Tonight when we needed it the most, he put the ball in the basket to help us get the W against a great team.”
Jenkins also finished with a team-high seven rebounds, senior guard Charles Glover added 15 points and sophomore point guard Bryant Crawford had eight assists for the Eagles, whose lone area loss came against Sidwell Friends on Dec. 28.
Paul VI, which started three sophomores and a freshman, launched its late upset bid with a 10-0 run to start the fourth and allowed just one field goal in the final five minutes. Howard led the team with 20 points and sophomore Marcus Derrickson scored all 15 of his points in the second half.
On the game’s final play, sophomore Kevin Dorsey (14 points) nearly banked in a half-court shot.
“I’m proud of my guys,” Paul VI Coach Glenn Farello said. “They showed a lot of fight and heart to come back, but you’ve got to be able to get stops.”