No. 10 Gonzaga holds off No. 18 UConn 73-70 in Bahamas
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas (AP) Gonzaga coach Mark Few entered this season excited about the pieces he had to work with.
The Zags' performance at the Battle 4 Atlantis this week only reinforced that early assessment.
Kyle Wiltjer scored 17 points, Eric McClellan added 15 and Gonzaga held off No. 18 Connecticut 73-70 Friday in the third-place game.
UConn's Rodney Purvis had a chance to tie the game but missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.
''I was proud of our guys,'' Few said. ''On the third day of a tournament like this, I think it's all about showing what kind of competitor you are. You can pout after the first disappointing loss that you think we should have won, or you can show up and compete. I'm really proud of how we showed up and we competed.''
Domantas Sabonis added 12 points for the Zags (4-1). Gonzaga was 10 for 24 from the 3-point line.
For the second straight game, the Zags played a crucial stretch of the second half without Sabonis. He picked up his fourth foul with just over eight minutes remaining. That allowed the Huskies (4-2) to erase what had been a 21-point deficit early in the second half.
McClellan said there was much takeaway from the Zags' 2-1 week in the Bahamas.
''Just the steps we're taking daily. At the beginning of the season we had a lot of things to improve on. We still do,'' he said. ''Last year this group was pretty solidified at all positions. This group is a bit different. We've got a young back court, guys that are stepping into new roles. But I think we took huge steps in this tournament in terms of our togetherness.''
Shonn Miller led UConn with 19 points. Daniel Hamilton added 14 points and seven rebounds.
The score was 70-66 when UConn's Miller got free for a dunk off a fast break to pull the Huskies within 70-68. Gonzaga added a free throw, and a few possessions later Miller got a floater to go to make it 71-70.
Coming out of a timeout, the Zags ran down the clock and Kyle Dranginis tipped in a miss to give them a little breathing room. The Huskies came up empty on their next trip, but a shot clock violation gave the Huskies a final possession with 8.1 seconds remaining. UConn initially got the ball to Sterling Gibbs, but his attempt was blocked, leaving only 2.2 seconds.
It was much more one-sided in the first half. The Huskies did a better job than they did in their semifinal loss to Texas A&M of finishing at the rim. But Gonzaga was efficient on offense in the half court, building a 16-point halftime lead.
''We can't keep getting down and then start playing,'' UConn coach Kevin Ollie said.
The Huskies had little answer for Sabonis, who weaved his way inside UConn's interior defenders. When the Huskies tried to slow him with double teams, the Zags passed on the perimeter to Wiltjer and Silas Melson. They finished the half a combined 5 for 7 from beyond the arc.
Gonzaga: Outscored the Huskies bench 24-16. ... Four Zags finished in double figures.
UConn: Shot just 1 for 12 from the 3-point line. ... Held a 37-36 rebounding advantage.
TALKING FOULS: Few said that Sabonis' foul trouble the last two games of the tournament may not just be the result of his feistiness on defense. ''It's getting really frustrating trying to explain to him some of these fouls he's picking up,'' he said. ''He's basically ducking people in legally, asking for the ball and their kind of blowing up, flopping. Again, we're supposed to be protecting the offense here, not rewarding the defense.''
HARD LESSONS: Ollie said he remains very encouraged by what he saw from his team over their three games this week. ''I think we're going to be better from this. I think this will be a growing lesson for our guys when we get in this moment again. And we will get in this moment again.''
The Zags visit Washington State on Wednesday.
The Huskies host Sacred Heart on Wednesday.
Follow Kyle Hightower on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/khightower