Gonzaga 74, Cincinnati 69

Thursday, March 20th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) _ Bob Huggins was sent packing, as was his team. Gonzaga, meanwhile, is back to its ol' tricks at tourney time.

Ronny Turiaf had 22 points, including a school record-tying 16 free throws, and 10 rebounds as ninth-seeded Gonzaga held off late-charging Cincinnati 74-69 Thursday in the West Regional.

``We have a flare for the dramatic,'' Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. ``They made a run at us and we were lucky to hang on.''

His Bulldogs like being underdogs at the NCAAs, even if this time they were playing a team slotted just one seed higher.

Gonzaga _ which made runs from low seedings to the round of eight in 1999 and round of 16 the next two years _ has one first-round loss in the past five tournaments. That came last year, when Gonzaga was seeded sixth and was bounced by No. 11 Wyoming.

Huggins, meanwhile, wasn't at courtside for Thursday's close finish.

``Coach is everything to us,'' said Taron Barker, whose 16 points led the Bearcats. ``That motivated us, but it hurt us, too, because he would have fired us up.''

Cincinnati's coach was ejected with about 16 minutes left, along with team radio announcer Chuck Machock, for arguing a traveling call on Jason Maxiell.

Huggins jumped in the air, landed with a two-footed stomp and quickly drew a technical. He continued to complain and a minute later was called for a second technical by official Mike Kitts.

Huggins had a heart attack in September and unabashedly said at the time there wouldn't be any change in his trademark sideline intensity. He was true to his word Thursday.

After the game, Huggins wouldn't talk about the ejection.

``I don't know that this is more disappointing than any other year. It's hard when you lose,'' he said. We don't feel good when we lose.''

Blake Stepp (12 points, seven assists) made all four free throws on the technical fouls to give the Bulldogs a 51-40 lead.

Cincinnati fell behind by as many as 12 points, but it kept chipping away the deficit until the very end.

Cory Violette, who missed Gonzaga's loss to San Diego in the West Coast Conference title game, scored 14 points, and Winston Brooks added 11 for the Bulldogs.

Gonzaga (24-8) held a 37-10 advantage in free-throw attempts. The Bulldogs made 28, including Turiaf's 16-for-22 showing.

Armein Kirkland scored 10 for Cincinnati (17-12).

The Bearcats often had trouble with their shooting this season and that didn't change Thursday, when they made just 39 percent of their field-goal attempts.

Leonard Stokes was just 2-for-10 for seven points, and Tony Bobbitt was 3-for-12 for eight points.

Still, the Bearcats had a chance to tie it after rallying down the stretch. Cincinnati used an 8-1 run to pull to 71-66 with 1 1/2 minutes left on Stokes' putback after two misses.

Barker's 3-pointer with 28.8 seconds left made it 72-69.

Then the Bearcats got another break when Gonzaga's Tony Skinner was all alone, went up for a dunk ... and missed.

But Skinner made up for it right away on the other end, blocking Bobbitt's 3-point attempt that would have tied the game.

``To come back with a great play like that was huge,'' Few said. ``I kidded him afterward. I said, 'I knew you'd make a play to win the game.' I just thought it would be on the breakaway.'''

Turiaf got the ball, was fouled, and sealed the victory with two more free throws, tying Frank Burgess' school record from the 1960s.