MAUI - Junior Cory Higgins scored a team-high 19 points, but it was not enough for the University of Colorado men's basketball team, as Gonzaga escaped with a 76-72 victory in the opening game of the EA Sports Maui Invitational at Lahaina Civic Center, Monday afternoon.
CU led by 15 in the first half and by 11 at halftime, but could not hold on to the lead in the second half. Gonzaga tied the game at 57 with 8:23 remaining on an Elias Harris basket and free throw. The game would be tied five additional times down the stretch before the Bulldogs pulled ahead for good.
"I walked out of the locker room for the first time since I've been at Colorado and felt like our kids believed we were going to win that game," said Associate Head Coach Steve McClain. "I knew they'd (Gonzaga) come back and be even, and we would have to fight. But I give our kids lots of credit. I thought we showed passion. I thought we were prepared. They made a shot where we didn't."
McClain coached the Buffaloes after Head Coach Jeff Bzdelik left Maui on Sunday upon learning that his mother had fallen ill. McClain also coached the Buffs in a season-opening 88-72 win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff as Bzdelik attended to another family emergency.
The Buffaloes got off to a hot start in the first half; making seven of their first nine three-point attempts. Powered by their hot shooting, CU went on a 27-6 run to take their largest lead of the game at 36-21 with 5:35 remaining in the first period. Junior Casey Crawford led the Buffs with eight points at the break as CU went into halftime with a 40-29 lead.
Gonzaga came storming back in the second half though, led by Highlands Ranch, Colo. native Matt Bouldin. Bouldin scored 16 of his 21 points after halftime, including a contested bank shot with 39 seconds left to put the Zags ahead 72-69. Steven Gray scored a game-high and career-high 27 points for the Bulldogs.
After going 7-of-11 from behind the arc in the first half, Colorado was 0-of-4 in the second. The Buffs still shot 53.1 percent from the field for the game and for the first time since the 1994-95 season have shot over 50 percent in four straight games.
Freshman Alec Burks scored 11 points and juniors Crawford and Marcus Relphorde each had 10 to add to Higgins' 19. Sophomore guard Nate Tomlinson dished out a career-high eight assists to go with his eight points. Higgins and Burks tied for the team lead with six rebounds apiece.
Higgins has led the team in scoring for a personal-best four straight games. This is also the fourth straight game that Burks has scored in double figures.
Colorado falls to 1-1 all-time against Gonzaga, with both contests coming in Hawaii. CU won the previous meeting 81-77 at the Rainbow Classic during the 1999-2000 season (Dec. 30, 1999).
The Buffaloes (3-1) lost for the first time this season and now await the loser of tonight's game between Arizona and Wisconsin. The game will tip tomorrow at 2 p.m. (MST) and be televised on ESPN2.