You know it’s a fast game when the teams are scoring faster than you’re able to write it down on the notepad. That happened more than once – perhaps 6-7 times – when BYU reached warp speed. Gonzaga got the game back under control in the second half and rallied for an 87-80 win.
Read on for my day-after post. I’ll post a preview later of Monday's San Diego game.
--The situations weren’t the same, but they were similar. Byron Wesley at the free-throw line in a crucial situation. Student section going bonkers in the background behind the basket. (Kudos to BYU students who stand, scream and raise their arms as visiting players start their shooting motion).
Flashback to the closing seconds against Arizona when Wesley drew a foul while attempting a 3-pointer. Needing three FTs to tie the score in overtime, Wesley came up empty, the last intentionally. On Saturday, Gonzaga was up by five, thanks to Wesley’s floater with 1:05 remaining and the USC transfer forcing a turnover on Kyle Collinsworth, when he was fouled with 38.1 seconds left.
Wesley made both free throws to put the game out of reach.
“B Wes made some plays seniors make, whether it was the free throws or that huge basket at the end of the shot clock and stripping Collinsworth,” coach Mark Few said. “That was basically the game.”
Wesley had 10 first-half points but was scoreless until dropping 1 of 2 free throws with 3:01 remaining.
“I started off the half and got some pretty good shots around the basket but I wasn’t able to finish them,” Wesley said. “Kevin (Pangos) and Gary (Bell Jr.) and Kyle (Wiltjer) did a good job stepping up. I just stayed on the bench and tried to stay ready.
Of his floater, Wesley said: “They were kind of sagging off me and a little late recovering. I saw a lane and took the shot.”
Wesley said he’s been taking extra free throws pre- and post-practice since the Arizona game.
--Kyle Wiltjer, as he’s prone to do, scored in bunches. He had GU’s first six points and 11 of its first 29. At that point GU led 29-15, and a pair of Kyle Dranginis free throws hiked the margin to 16. Wiltjer didn’t score the rest of the half.
Wiltjer was key to GU’s success in the second half against BYU’s zone defense. Wiltjer, working at the high post, had room for elbow jumpers, drives and dishes to open teammates. He finished with 24 points on 11-of-23 shooting. He also had five rebounds, two assists and no turnovers in 31 minutes.
“I just stayed with the course of the game and stayed positive no matter what happened,” Wiltjer said. “In the end I just took my time and settled down a little bit and thought I did well in there.”
The adjustment against BYU’s zone, which had bugged GU in the final 9 minutes of the first half, led to quality shots on virtually every possession. Wiltjer seems ideal at high post because he can hit the mid-range jumper, create his own shot with a dribble or two, pass high-low to Przemek Karnowski and drift beyond the 3-point line when the post gets doubled.
“We decided four-out wasn’t working and our emphasis was getting into the high post and not only looking for the shot, but looking everywhere,” Wiltjer said.
--Wiltjer, who played in some of the toughest arenas in the country during his two seasons at Kentucky, said the Marriott Center had a “great college atmosphere.”
“Super loud,” he said. “Anytime you’re on the road everyone is against you. That was awesome, an awesome experience.”
--BYU played the way BYU plays, which is unlike most teams. The Cougars were full throttle, especially when Gonzaga sputtered offensively, allowing BYU to get its transition game in gear.
“It just went chaotic, helter-skelter (after GU dominated the first 11 minutes),” Few said, “predominately because of our poor offense, long rebounds. They’re a terrific transition team, as good as anyone in the country. They burned us.”
That style served BYU well when it made up a 16-point deficit in a hurry in the first half, and it also hurt the Cougars when they quick-triggered three 3-pointers on three possessions midway through the second half with the shot clock barely at the 30-second mark.
“They’re such a team of runs,” Few said. “Watching all their games, you knew they had a couple runs in them.”
BYU’s four-guard lineup has give-and-take elements. The Cougars, even with a healthy Nate Austin, get very little scoring from forwards and centers. Their four-guard alignments are tough to deal with as they work off the dribble or spot up at the 3-point line. But the Cougars give away size at the defensive end, which shows up in point paints and rebounding totals.
“They are (a pain to guard) because they have a lot of shooters,” Wiltjer said. “They’re not as structured as a lot of teams, they just fire away.”
--Angel Nunez said he felt fine during Friday’s practice, but the flu bug hit him hard Saturday. He remained in the locker room during the game. Not sure how much Nunez would have played but his size, quickness and athleticism might have matched up with BYU’s four-guard lineup.
--Neither team was at full strength. GU was without Nunez. Karnowski was a week removed from spraining his ankle but delivered nine points, 10 boards and three assists. Domas Sabonis missed several minutes in the first half with a cut on his forehead. The freshman forward struggled with two points, two turnovers, zero rebounds and three fouls in 14 minutes.
“That’s hard to ask Wiltjer and Sabonis to chase (guards/wings) off flare screens and ball screens,” Few said.
BYU was without Nate Austin (torn hamstring). Tyler Haws, slowed by a sprained ankle, struggled in the second half. He was limited in his ability to create off the dribble and he left several shots short.
STATS OF NOTE
--Kevin Pangos, who scored 21 points, surpassed 1,500 for his career, the 14th Zag to reach the milestone.
--Pangos had made nine 3-pointers in the last two games, giving him 267 in his career. He’s closing in on No. 2 Richie Frahm (280) and No. 1 Blake Stepp (288).
--Silas Melson was busy in his 8-minute stint. He went 3 of 5 on FGs and scored six points. He had one steal, one rebound, one turnover and two fouls.
--BYU starting posts Luke Worthington and Isaac Neilson didn’t make a field goal and managed just two points. Forward Corbin Kaufusi came off the bench to contribute five points and five rebounds.
--The loss was just the 14th at the Marriott Center under Rose in nine years. BYU is 137-14 in Rose’s tenure.
Few: “They were just running by us like they were the Roadrunner and we were Coyote.”
Pangos on operating against BYU’s zone in the second half: “The coaches said we have to knock down a couple to keep the defense honest. Right after a timeout I found one and hit it, and got rolling from there.”
Few: “I thought ‘Shem’ was kind of our rock for long stretches, we were playing off him. And a big key was Wiltjer settled down and found himself in some money areas against that zone.”
Collinsworth: “"We let Pangos get off on a lot of shots. He’s a great player and when he gets in rhythm like that, hit a few 3s and became really aggressive and we didn’t make the adjustments we needed to to stop him before he got going."