SPOKANE — A sellout crowd, a national television audience and a large group of NBA scouts fully expected to see something special unfold on the basketball court Friday night at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
One presumes everyone’s expectations were met.
“It must have been a fun game to watch,” Gonzaga point guard Kevin Pangos understated after his spectacular shooting led the 13th-ranked Bulldogs to a highly entertaining 94-87 win over Baylor.
Pangos rocketed his way out of a shooting slump by making 10 out of 13 shots, including 7-for- 10 from 3-point range, to score a season-high 31 points.
As good as Pangos was, he had to share the spotlight. The uptempo contest matched two talented, veteran teams and featured an endless array of high-flying dunks, silky-smooth jumpers and acrobatic plays inside.
“Up and down, up and down the whole game. You always enjoy those games,” said Gonzaga’s Gary Bell Jr., a sophomore guard out of Kentridge High School.
Pangos added, “You love defense, too, but you love a high-scoring game.”
Gonzaga took the lead for good in the final five minutes of the first half. However, Baylor mounted repeated mini-rallies that the Bulldogs – and Pangos – stymied before the Bears could gain too much momentum.
Baylor senior point guard Pierre Jackson, who led the Bears with 26 points, said Pangos is “a good player, but defensively, we slacked off. We didn’t pressure him on the 3-point line. He got some good looks.”
The defense of both teams was underwhelming at times, but Gonzaga coach Mark Few pointed out, “We played great offense. We played better offense than they did.”
Gonzaga (12-1) shot 52.5 percent from the field, compared to 51.6 percent for Baylor (8-4). The Bulldogs shot a sizzling 65.5 percent in the second half, and they sank half their 3-point attempts (9 of 18) in the game.
“Gonzaga is a very good offensive team,” Baylor coach Scott Drew said. “When they shoot 50 percent from 3, it makes them even better.
“But the big difference was Pangos.”
Jackson, a 2010-11 honorable mention All-American, was 4-for-10 shooting on 3-pointers and had six assists. He also made seven of Baylor’s 14 turnovers.
“He’s the fastest guard I’ve ever played against,” said Bell, a noted defensive stopper who had his share of problems keeping up with Jackson. “It’s like you’re guessing sometimes which way he’s going to go.”
Bell contributed 12 points, five assists and three steals. He had no turnovers in 34 minutes, and Pangos accounted for one of Gonzaga’s 10 turnovers in 37 minutes.
Gonzaga’s talented big men also played well. Kelly Olynyk piled up 21 points and four rebounds and Elias Harris pitched in with 17 points and seven rebounds before 6,000 spectators.
Baylor freshman center Isaiah Austin, a projected lottery pick in the 2013 NBA draft, produced 20 points (including a pair of 3-pointers) and eight rebounds. Austin packs just 220 pounds on his 7-foot-1 frame, but it’s obvious why he was one of the nation’s top recruits a year ago.
“He has so many gifts,” Pangos said.
“He’s special,” Jackson said. “He’s a match-up problem. He’s long. He can play inside, and he can play outside.”
The Bears, an Elite Eight qualifier in the NCAA tournament last season and in 2010, saw their three-game winning streak snapped. Baylor has been ranked as high as 16th this season, but is not presently in the Top 25.
Gonzaga, 4-0 all-time against Baylor, takes a three-game winning streak to 22nd-ranked Oklahoma State (10-1) on Monday. ESPN2 televises the contest at 3 p.m.
The Bulldogs open West Coast Conference play Thursday at Pepperdine.