"Absolutely," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "I mean, down here? Yeah.
"I knew they'd play incredibly inspired and passionate, with a purpose."
The Cougars were certainly not pleased with the loss, but they took some satisfaction in taking Gonzaga (9-0) down to the wire. WSU is 7-122 all-time against Top 10 opponents.
"It was a great college basketball game, there's no doubt about it," Washington State coach Ken Bone said. "It was a fun game to be involved in. A stressful game to coach."
Added Few: "Ken always has a great game plan."
The Cougars (5-4) received a huge boost from Curtis High product DaVonté Lacy. A team captain as a sophomore, Lacy came off the bench and scored a career-high 22 points after missing the previous four games with a left knee injury.
COUGAR FANS ROAR THEIR APPROVAL OF THE HOME TEAM WEDNESDAY AT FRIEL COURT.
"When he's on the floor, he's got a presence, because the other guys believe in him."
Lacy made a believer out of the Bulldogs when he made a number of key plays at crunch time. Gonzaga chose to pursue Bell over Lacy out of high school -- both are sophomore wings -- but Bell and Few said they've long known about Lacy's skill set.
"We've played against each other pretty much our whole lives," Bell said.
"We only had room for one (wing recruit in 2011)," Few recalled. "We looked at him (Lacy) and liked him."
WSU's Brock Motum and Gonzaga's Elias Harris, two of the 50 players named to the preseason Wooden Award watch list for college player of the year, led all players with 23 points each. Kelly Olynyk added 22 – all during a brilliant second half for Gonzaga -- off the bench.
"He's a good player," said Motum, who exchanged elbows and words with Olynyk at times. "He converted pretty well at the end. He made some big plays."
Few has said Motum will be "an 11-year, 12-year NBA guy."
As for Olynyk, a 7-foot forward who can bang inside or drain 3-pointers, Bell said, "He's going to be playing for a lot of money."
Olynyk, Harris and Motum joined Lacy in making big-time plays down the stretch. Of course, Kevin Pangos saved the biggest play for last.
Pangos, struggling mightily all night after torching the Cougs a year ago, drove down the right side to score the game-winning layin with 2.2 seconds left. One year after he lit up WSU for nine 3-pointers and 33 points, Pangos missed 10 of his 11 shots before sinking the winner.
"He played very poorly," Few said, "yet he stuck with it."
THE COUGAR DANCE TEAM WAS ALL SMILES MOST OF THE NIGHT.
"I mean, there were two, maybe three hands (near his face), but he hit it off the glass. One of the first shots he made. You can't play any better defense than that."
Pangos, listed at 6-2, missed some open shots and also had trouble getting free from tall, lean Dexter Kernich-Drew.
"He's not a lock-down, tough, Gary Payton, get-in-your-face type of defender," Bone said of Kernich-Drew, "but he's 6-6, long arms, good anticipation. Very much the way Klay (former WSU star Klay Thompson) was."
The Cougars have struggled at the gate since Thompson left for the NBA two years ago, but a raucous crowd of 9,367 -- including plenty of Gonzaga fans -- turned out Wednesday. WSU had been averaging just 4,521.
"I wish we could have more crowds like this," Motum said. "I think we'd win a lot more games."
The Cougars like to think they'll win a lot more games at home and on the road if they duplicate Wednesday's effort.
"I'm just really proud of our guys … we battled through some adversity and showed some real toughness," Bone said.
"They got up seven or eight," Lacy said, "we could have easily just thrown the towel in and said, ‘We played a Top 10 team tough' and call it a night.
"I think it's a testament to our team we kept in there."
MOTUM TAKES AIM FROM DOWNTOWN AGAINST PRZEMEK KARNOWSKI.