For nearly the entire third quarter of Sunday’s matchup with No. 6 O’Connell, Gonzaga boys’ basketball Coach Steve Turner watched his team struggle offensively; each missed layup and off-target pass made tougher his team’s chances at the history books.
Turner could have yelled at his players, called a timeout or let them run out the period’s final moments. Instead, Turner reverted to what coaches do best: he called a play.
Though basic in its elements, the offensive set packed plenty of firepower and ended with Jordan Abdur-Ra’oof high above the rim for an alley-oop jam that sparked No. 1 Gonzaga to a 58-53 victory at American University’s Bender Arena. The win completed the Eagles’ perfect run through Washington Catholic Athletic Conference regular season play, making them just the third team to accomplish that feat.
“For whatever reason, we had come out flat and at that point [in the third quarter], I felt like we had a chance to make a run,” Turner said. “We went for the energy play and once Jordan dunked it, we were able to break away.”
Initially, Charles Glover seemed to be the lone spark for the Eagles (25-3, 18-0 in WCAC). The senior, who celebrated his birthday on Sunday, scored or assisted on Gonzaga’s first four baskets en route to a team-high 15 points. But in what proved to be a physical, defense-heavy first half, the Knights were able to pull ahead 27-25 thanks to eight second-quarter points from Leroy Butts.
After Bryant Crawford nailed a three-pointer to open the second half, the Eagles converted just one field goal over the next six minutes. The drought allowed the Knights (22-6, 15-3) to stretch their lead to 36-31 entering the final minute of the third. That’s when Abdur-Ra’oof stepped up, scoring two buckets in the paint before rising for a thunderous dunk that woke up the crowd and the Eagles.
“I just try to take advantage of opportunities when they come,” said Ra’oof, who sat out the fourth quarter after taking an elbow to the eye. “We were a little sluggish, so that type of energy play got us going at the right time.”
The Knights pulled back within one early in the fourth quarter before two turnovers thwarted their chances.
Meantime, the Eagles gained more rhythm offensively on a Crawford three-point play and by executing several pick-and-rolls for baskets.
“Going undefeated in the WCAC is extremely hard because most say it’s the toughest conference in the nation,” Glover said. “Our team chemistry has been big for us and we’ll have to keep that up if we want to reach our ultimate goal of winning the [WCAC] tournament.”