SPOKANE, Wash. (AP)—Steven Gray missed the first 10 games of his freshman season after fracturing his wrist, and was cleared to play just last week.
On Monday night, Gray scored 12 points and played 28 crucial minutes as 18th-ranked and injury-riddled Gonzaga beat overmatched Northern Colorado 77-57.
It was the first regular season appearance for Gray, who fractured his wrist in an exhibition game and had a pin inserted on Nov. 14.
With leading scorer Matt Bouldin out with an ankle injury, and starting guard Jeremy Pargo slowed by a hyperextended knee, Gray’s expected playing time grew sharply in the past week.
“At first it was `You’ll get some minutes at the end,”’ Gray said. “Then Matt went down and they told me to be ready to go.
“You have to make the most of your opportunities,” said Gray, the latest freshman to give Gonzaga (9-2) a significant lift this season.
Gray, who is also battling a cold, added four rebounds.
“I was proud how Steven came out in his first action,” coach Mark Few said.
Freshman Austin Daye had 18 points and seven rebounds for the Zags, while Micah Downs added 17 points, making a career-high five of 10 3-pointers, and Pargo had 10 points and eight assists.
Northern Colorado (5-4) started strong, but the Zags’ defense wore them down. The Bears shot 24 percent in the first half and 31 percent for the game. They missed their first 13 shots from 3-point range, and finished 4-of-20 from behind the arc.
“We couldn’t get anything going offensively,” Bears coach Tad Boyle said. “Our guys aren’t used to playing against that size of players.”
The status of Bouldin, who averages 13.3 points, is unclear for Thursday’s game at Oklahoma, Few said. Gonzaga forward Abdullahi Kuso, who had rolled an ankle, didn’t score in eight minutes on Monday.
Few credited Gonzaga’s defense for the win. After falling behind 8-0, the Zags outscored the Bears 44-20 over the next 30 minutes to coast to the victory. They won the rebound battle 45-37, and recorded eight steals and four blocked shots.
Jabrik Banks had 18 points for Northern Colorado.
Gonzaga led 37-24 at halftime and then outscored the Bears 11-4 at the start of the second half for a 48-28 lead with 14 minutes left. The Bears did not threaten again.
Gonzaga, coming off a nine-day break for final exams, did not score in the opening four minutes and missed its first six shots to fall behind 8-2. Downs hit consecutive 3-pointers and Pargo made a layup for an 8-0 run that tied the score at 14.
Gray’s 3-pointer gave the Zags their first lead, 17-16 with 10:32 left.
Northern Colorado scored just 10 points and made just two field goals over the final 13 minutes of the first half.