I’m back courtside once again for the finals of the 2009 EA Sports Maui Invitational. We’re about 15 minutes from tip-off for the game between the Gonzaga Bulldogs and the Cincinnati Bearcats. The game can be seen live on ESPN. I’ll be giving you constant updates on this one as it goes but I’ll also be running into the corner of the floor to take photos of the action that I’ll be posting later as a wrap-up to this one.
Just to preview the championship game a bit, both teams have looked very good this week. I’d have to lean towards Gonzaga in this game simply because they’re the more disciplined squad. But freshman Lance Stephenson and forward Yancy Gates have really been impressive for Cincinnati, while Deonta Vaughn has yet to really break out. Look for him to do that tonight.
For the Zags, senior guard Matt Bouldin runs the show and does it very well. His partner at the guard spot is junior Steven Gray who is having a nice tournament so far. In the post the Zags are young but explosive. Sophomore 7-footer Robert Sacre and freshman Elias Harris have both looked very good so far in this one. It will be a great matchup between those two and Gates inside.
Gonzaga 61, Cincinnati 59 (OT)
Just a little side note to start this one, Lance Stephenson put on an absolutely ridiculous dunking show early on in warm-ups. The freshman has a future in dunk contests, no doubt.
Pregame tournament MVP picks: For Cincinnati it’s Yancy Gates easily. For Gonzaga I’d pick Matt Bouldin but Steven Gray could easily take it with a good game in the final.
(in old-timey boxing announcer voice) We’ve had the appetizers, let’s get to the main course!
A furious first four minutes here. As we hit the first media timeout with 15:34 left it’s Cincinnati up 7-6. Stephenson has already started to assert himself more in this game than we’ve seen all week. If he keeps attacking it could be tough to stop him.
For Gonzaga, Gray has done a nice job recovering to and denying Deonta Vaughn the ball. If the Zags settle down and pound the ball with Harris and Sacre, they might be able to get Gates in foul trouble, which should open things up. We’ll see.
At the 11:24 mark we’ve got a 9-7 Gonzaga lead. I was almost killed by that Will Foster rejection. Apparently Gonzaga’s 7’5 senior didn’t like me taking his picture because that ball was aimed squarely at my head. No hard feelings Will?
Both teams are taking too many three’s so far. Both have excellent interior games but they’re taking the easy way out on offense and hoisting the first open jumper they see. The matchup of Matt Bouldin vs. Lance Stephenson is fascinating though. The wily, battle-tested, fundamental senior vs. the young, incredibly athletic freshman. Awesome.
Well things just keep turning in this one. With 7:31 to go, Cincinnati has regained the lead 16-11. Deonta Vaughn just stepped into a perfect 3-pointer.
Earlier in the week Jay Bilas told me it would be hard for the Bulldogs to play three days in a row because their key players log so many minutes. So far the Zags look a little slow and tired. They’re settling on offense instead of going to the hoop. I think Sacre could get something going inside but he’s clearly letting Yancy Gates’ size intimidate him.
Sorry for that long stretch without an update, the courtside internet went out.
First, a bit on the first half. Steven Gray hit a clutch 3-pointer as time wound down to close the gap to 23-19 Cincinnati. Huge shot.
Some halftime numbers:
Gonzaga shot just 32.1 percent from the field, including just 4-of-16 from 3-point range. GO INSIDE ZAGS!!!!
Cincinnati didn’t fare much better, hitting just 35 percent of its shots.
Saw ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt at the half, he’s enjoying the action courtside. Nice guy. He’s just as tall, gangly, paleand Paul Bettany-like in person as he is on television.
With 17:06 left in the second half, things have gotten a little chippy here. A technical foul was issued on Gonzaga’s Demitri Goodson, Robert Sacre and Cincy’s Cashmere Wright and Steve Toyloy. All were deserved for a little post foul melee. 28-24 Cincinnati leads.
Oh, and I would bet serious money on the fact that Elias Harris got a talking to from the Zaga coaching staff at the break. He’s looking to score inside now.
The officials have finally started calling Cincinnati on some of their rough inside play. Just bumps and bangs mainly but they’re not going to let them get away with playing rough.
I was just informed that Sports Center’s Neil Everett is here as well. I’ll try and get pictures of he and SVP when I get a chance.
With 15:07 to go, 33-26 Cincinnati. Elias Harris is attacking but the Bearcats seem to have an answer for everything the Bulldogs are doing so far.
Timeout Gonzaga with 13:17 left and Cincinnati on a run. 38-28 Bearcats. The one area that could kill Cincinnati is foul trouble. The Bearcats were already giving up the bonus with more than 15 minutes left in the half. Gonzaga will make its free throws, so Cincy has to be careful not to foul.
Cincinnati’s ball pressure has been fantastic. They’re really making the Bulldogs force shots and fight through defenders to get what they want. But that ball pressure will inevitably lead to a lot of fouls. Annnd here comes the free throw shooting brigade. With 11:49 left, nine team fouls on Cincy. 40-32 Bearcats at the under-12 timeout.
HUGE 3-pointer by Steven Gray with 11:01 left to cut the Cincy lead to 40-37. Timeout Bearcats.
7:04 to go, the Zags are still pushing the ball up the floor and they seem to be getting better shots and movement on offense. For the first time tonight Gonzaga doesn’t appear tired. Cincinnati just keeps answering though. This is definitely a better team than anybody thought it was in preseason. Stephenson has discovered that he can, in fact, fill up the stat sheet at the college level. That’s a scary thought for the rest of the Big East. 48-45 Bearcats.
Wow what a game this has turned out to be. Bouldin hit a huge three to tie things at 50, then Cashmere Wright answered to put the Bearcats back up by three, then Gray pulled up off the break to nail another 3-pointer and tie things at 53. Timeout Gonzaga with 2:15 left. The atmosphere in here is great. Kudos to both fanbases.
Awful turnover there, Goodson and Bouldin completely miscommunicate and the pass from Goodson sails out of bounds. That takes us to our final media timeout of the evening. 53-53 with 2:06 to go.
Stephenson did it again. He put a great move on Bouldin and went in for the layup. 55-53 Cincy with 1:08 left and the ball.
We’ve got overtime baby! What a way to end this tournament. Stephenson took a bad pull up, the Zags rebounded and took a timeout. Then Gray found Sacre inside for a short jumper. On the other end Stephenson tried to breakdown Bouldin then tossed an alley-oop to Gates that was blocked by Sacre. We’ve got 5 more minutes on the clock at it’s all tied at 55-55.
If the Bearcats could hit their free throws this would be a walk so far in the overtime period. Instead, Deonta Vaughn missed both of his with the game tied at 57. Then on the other end, Gray ran a gorgeous pick and roll to get Sacre the ball for an emphatic dunk. Timeout Cincinnati. With 2:35 in overtime, Gonzaga leads 59-57.
Well thanks to the internet going out courtside, I wasn’t able to update until the game finished. And what a great finish.
Gonzaga wins and takes home the 2009 EA Sports Maui Invitational crown with a 61-59 overtime victory.
Some final stats and thoughts:
This is easily Mark Few’s most talented team. The Zags are young and will have some growing pains but they’re so talented that we should all expect to see them in the top 15 by the end of the year.
Matt Boudin and Steven Gray shared the tournament MVP award. They deserved it. Bouldin didn’t have a great offensive game in the final, as he only managed 6 points as Lance Stephenson played fantastic defense on him all night. But as I’ve said before, Bouldin is the type of player who doesn’t have to score to impact a game. He led everyone with 11 rebounds, dished out 3 assists, added a steal and basically ran the team all night long.
Gray played great all week. I would have picked him for the MVP award by himself if it were up to me. He finished the title game with 13 points, 7 boards, 4 assists and 2 turnovers.
The big thing to me that helped Gonzaga win tonight was rebounding. They out-dueled a far more athletic team on the boards, finishing with a 40-35 advantage.
A key factor for the Bulldogs will be how they deal with getting their young bench players involved. The Zags’ starting five all logged significant minutes tonight and can’t keep doing that all season or they’ll break down. Elias Harris played 40 minutes, Robert Sacre and Demitri Goodson both went 38, Bouldin was on the court for 42 and Gray 43. No one off the bench played more than 7 minutes. That’s a lot of playing time for just five guys.
Cincinnati should definitely not be despondent over this loss. They took a very good Gonzaga team to overtime after upsetting two top 25 teams (Vanderbilt and Maryland) to get to the final.
Deonta Vaughn and Yancy Gates both made the all-tournament team. Vaughn had a rough game in the final scoring the ball. He logged 8 points, 7 rebounds, 6 assists and 3 steals. Gates didn’t dominate Gonzaga’s bigs like he has everyone else’s in the tournament. He finished with 11 points and 7 boards, and shot just 4-of-12 from the field.
The great news for Cincinnati is that freshman phenom Lance Stephenson now knows he can get points at the college level. Stephenson took some bad shots, but was generally controlled as he led all scorers in the championship game with 15 points, while grabbing 2 rebounds and dishing out an assist. He finished the night 7-of-14 from the floor.
One thing we can all take home from this tournament for sure is that both Cincinnati and Gonzaga should crack the top 25 when the new rankings come out next week. And they both deserve it.
Well thanks for tuning in. Another fantastic week from Maui is in the books. I’ll get some pictures up later for you to check out but for now I’m signing off. Aloha!