Bolton’s 24 points lead No. 2 Gonzaga ahead of No. 4 Kentucky

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) — Gonzaga coach Mark Few wasn’t sure how the No. 2 Bulldogs against No. 4 Kentucky after beating at No. 4 earlier in the week. 11 Texas had lost.

He needn’t have worried.

Rasir Bolton scored 24 points, Drew Timme added 22 and Gonzaga defeated the cold-shooting Kentucky 88-72 Sunday night at the off-campus Spokane Arena.

Julian Strawther had 20 points and 14 rebounds for Gonzaga, who suffered the worst loss since 2014 in Wednesday’s 93-74 loss to the Longhorns.

“You hoped your team would react like that after a disappointing loss,” Few said. “It was really, really big.”

Anton Watson had 10 points and 10 rebounds and spent the evening guarding reigning Player of the Year Oscar Tshiebwe, who was in trouble for most of the game.

“Anton was phenomenal tonight,” said Few. “He was spectacular.”

Tshiebwe finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds for Kentucky (3-2), who shot just 39% in the game compared to 56% for Gonzaga.

Gonzaga (3:1) dominated the first half. The Bulldogs led 25-15 with less than eight minutes remaining in the first game and held the Wildcats on a 4-of-22 shootout. But Gonzaga committed eight turnovers to keep Kentucky in the game.

Gonzaga put on a 14-3 run to extend his lead to 41-25 by halftime. Tshiebwe led all scorers in the first half with 14 points.

“I didn’t improve as much as I should,” said Tshiebwe. “I have to get better.”

Kentucky coach John Calipari pointed to his team’s 25 percent shot-on-scene ratio in the first half as a key factor.

“We can’t miss every open shot,” Calipari said. “It was so embarrassing in the first half that we couldn’t play a game.”

Jacob Toppin of Kentucky said the team “got into a hole we couldn’t get out of.” But the Wildcats found their touch in the second half, cutting Gonzaga’s lead to 47-39 with a 14-6 run. Cason Wallace and Kentucky’s Antonio Reeves then hit back-to-back 3-pointers.

But Tshiebwe promptly conceded his fourth foul and prevailed around 13 minutes before the end. Timme went off for seven points and Gonzaga led 65-55 when Tshiebwe returned to the lineup.

Bolton hit four free throws and a 3-pointer to put Gonzaga to an 84-69 lead with 1:20 to go to end the game.

Calipari refused to play that game at Gonzaga’s home ground, the intimate McCarthey Athletic Center. The Spokane Arena has doubled the capacity with around 12,000 seats and was packed. Gonzaga is 12-6 all-time at the arena and last played there in 2014.

RECORD NUMBER OF VISITORS

The game drew 12,333 fans, the largest crowd ever in Spokane Arena history.

NUMBERS DON’T LIE

Gonzaga sunk 19 of 21 free throws…Kentucky missed all 10 of his 3-point attempts in the first half but made six of 15 in the second half.

BIG PICTURE

Kentucky: The Wildcats lost 86-77 to Michigan State in double overtime on Tuesday and defeated South Carolina State 106-63 on Thursday, making Sunday their third game in six days.

Gonzaga: The Bulldogs have avoided straight losses for the first time since 2018. They have been ranked in the top 5 in 52 consecutive polls.

NEXT

Kentucky: host North Florida on Wednesday.

Gonzaga: Playing Thursday’s PK85 Invitational in Portland, Oregon at Portland State.

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