SPOKANE, Wash. - The fans and NBA scouts who packed the McCarthey Athletic Center on Friday night were treated to a grand back-and-forth tussle. It was a game played at the highest of levels and featured a number of memorable performances.
No one, however, performed quite like Kevin Pangos. The Gonzaga sophomore furnished what was easily his best effort of the season - and, boy, was it ever needed.
Pangos pumped in a season-high 31 points to pace 13th-ranked Gonzaga to a 94-87 win over a tough Baylor squad. The non-conference triumph, coming in front of a capacity crowd, bumps the Bulldogs' record to 12-1.
"I was just trying to be aggressive and things opened up," said Pangos, who finished just two points shy of his career high. "Each game is going to be different in what I have to do for the team."
Pangos was one of four Bulldogs to reach double figures. The Zags, who drained half of their 18 attempts from behind the arc, shot 52 percent.
"When we get it going like that," Gonzaga sophomore Gary Bell Jr. said, "I don't think a lot of teams can hang with us."
Pangos, perhaps suffering from the proverbial sophomore slump, entered Friday's contest averaging slightly less than 10 points per game on a meager 38-percent shooting. In the last five games alone, that figure dipped to 30 percent as he missed all but 13 of his 43 shot attempts over that span.
"I'm just always going to shoot it," Pangos said. "I'm always in the gym and I'm going to trust the work I put in, whether it falls or not."
Against the Bears, Pangos had no reason for doubt. He was 10-for-13 from the field, including 7-of-10 from behind the arc.
"I never was worried about him," Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. "Just as long as he keeps shooting - he puts way too much time in the gym and makes way too many in practice to worry about it."
Added Bell: "We knew one of these games was going to be a breakout game. Luckily today he did that for us; he was a big-time player for us."
Indeed, it was Pangos who kept the game close in the initial stages. The 6-foot-2 guard tallied 11 points and a pair of assists in the opening period, helping the Zags turn an early six-point deficit into a six-point cushion at halftime.
Pangos only continued to heat up after intermission. He often stemmed Baylor rallies by drilling timely 3-pointers and knifing through the defense for acrobatic layins over much-taller defenders.
Every eye-popping feat performed by Pangos was necessary thanks to Pierre Jackson. The speedy Baylor point guard was exceptional, scoring 26 points to go with six assists.
"Offensively, he would be there one second and be gone the next," Pangos said. "He was tough and you can't really guard him one-on-one."
For the most part, the opposing point guards played evenly. But Pangos was substantially better in one key area: ball security. He committed just one turnover to Jackson's seven.
"That was a heckuva a basketball game," Few said. "There were some high-level players out there making plays and making shots."
The Bulldogs now enter arguably their toughest stretch of the season. Five of their next six games are on the road. That includes showdowns with Oklahoma State and Butler, both of which are in the Top 25. The only home game, by the way, is against West Coast Conference rival Saint Mary's.
To make it through that gauntlet unscathed, the Bulldogs will likely need more sublime performances by Pangos. He doesn't need to replicate exactly what he did against Baylor, but he can't drop off too much.
"Hopefully the rest of the season I can continue it, but we'll see," Pangos said. "I can't promise anything ... but I'll be in the gym practicing still. Nothing's going to change."