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Gonzaga Wins in Furious Finish

March 08, 2004|Rob Fernas | Times Staff Writer

SANTA CLARA — Ronny Turiaf's putback basket with five seconds remaining gave fourth-ranked Gonzaga a 63-62 victory over Santa Clara in the semifinals of the West Coast Conference tournament Sunday night in front of a raucous capacity crowd of 4,500 at the Leavey Center.

Gonzaga (26-2) extended its winning streak to 19 games and kept its hopes alive for a No. 1 regional seeding for the NCAA tournament.

Turiaf accounted for Gonzaga's final two baskets on putbacks after Blake Stepp's three-point basket with 1:41 left had given the Bulldogs their first lead of the second half.

Santa Clara (16-16) had taken a 62-61 lead with 25 seconds left on Travis Niesen's basket.

In all, the teams exchanged the lead five times in a furious final two minutes, with the Broncos scoring three of their last four baskets on putbacks.

Santa Clara had made six three-point shots in the first nine minutes of the second half to extend a three-point halftime lead. Doron Perkins' third three-pointer during that stretch put the Broncos ahead, 49-39, with 11:11 to play.

The fifth-seeded Broncos answered every challenge in the next several minutes, stopping Gonzaga on the defensive end and extending possessions with timely offensive rebounds.

A putback basket by J.R. Patrick gave Santa Clara a 58-50 lead with just under five minutes to play.

Gonzaga, playing its first game in more than a week after having byes in the first two rounds of the tournament, started sluggishly against the Broncos, who were playing their third game in as many days.

The Bulldogs made only nine of 26 first-half shots (34.6%) and trailed at halftime, 29-26. It was their lowest-scoring half of the season.

Stepp, the WCC player of the year and a Wooden Award finalist, made only one of five shots and missed all four of his three-point attempts in the first half.

Santa Clara took advantage of Gonzaga's poor start and took a 19-8 lead when Perkins made a short hook shot and free throw after being fouled to complete a three-point play.

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