Gonzaga got worked over on the offensive boards, didn’t shoot particularly well and turned the ball over too much. All painful, but not fatal.
What the Bulldogs did do was defend, get to the free-throw line and play full throttle, and that was more than enough to carry Gonzaga to a 74-63 West Coast Conference men’s basketball victory over cold-shooting BYU in front of 6,000 Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.
“That was probably as physical as it has been all year for us,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “We did a great job defensively and we did a great job of getting to the free-throw line (by) attacking their double-teams and pressure.”
The victory keeps Gonzaga’s chances of a 12th consecutive WCC title alive, but the Bulldogs (22-5, 12-3) need a win at San Diego on Saturday and a Saint Mary’s loss at San Francisco to share the crown with the Gaels. Saint Mary’s (24-5, 13-2) crushed Portland 70-43. The Gaels and Bulldogs, who have clinched at least the No. 2 seed, will have byes into the semifinals of the WCC Tournament next week in Las Vegas.
Gonzaga broke away in the first half with a 16-4 run, spurred by two 3-pointers by Kevin Pangos and one by Gary Bell Jr. The spurt boosted Gonzaga’s lead to 31-18 and the Bulldogs settled for a 37-27 advantage at half.
When the Bulldogs got the ball inside with post feeds or dribble penetration, they drew fouls and cashed in by making 12 of 15 free throws in the first 20 minutes. BYU, which was without standout senior forward Noah Hartsock (knee) for most of the game, made 11 of 44 from the field. The Cougars collected 15 offensive rebounds, but only converted them into eight points.
“We played with poise,” said junior forward Elias Harris, who finished with 19 points and equaled his career high with 16 rebounds. “We realize what we need to do to be successful, and that’s play hard on the defensive end and drive their shooting percentages down. It wasn’t perfect on the offensive end, we can make more improvement there, but we’re still a young team and it takes time.”
Gonzaga stretched its lead to 48-31 with a spurt fueled by Guy Landry Edi’s five points and Harris’ four points. From there, the fouls and turnovers began stacking up. BYU (23-7, 11-4) rallied within seven, but Gonzaga held on to complete an 8-0 record in WCC home games.
“We fought hard, despite our shooting percentage,” said BYU forward Brandon Davis, who overcame a slow start to finish with 23 points, 10 rebounds and six steals. “We stayed confident and kept getting shots we wanted. You have nights like this where it’s not falling.”
Pangos finished with 18 points and Bell added 12 points. The Bulldogs made just 39 percent of their shots, but they were 6 of 13 on 3-pointers and 36 of 44 at the free-throw line (81.8 percent). Pangos made 10 of 13 free throws, Harris 10 of 12.
The Bulldogs committed 20 turnovers, 15 in the second half. Gonzaga had 19 turnovers in an 83-73 road loss to BYU last month.
“We didn’t give up 26 breakaway points on layins, or whatever that number was (in Provo),” Few said.
Hartsock played seven minutes in the first half and didn’t attempt a shot. He sat out the second half.
“You could tell they were struggling without him,” said Harris, who brought the crowd to its feet with a one-hand jam on a lob pass from Pangos in the closing minutes.
BYU guard Matt Carlino scored 18 points, but he made just 7 of 23 shots. The Cougars made 24 of 78 field-goal attempts (31 percent) and 6 of 28 3-pointers (21.4 percent). BYU grabbed 23 offensive rebounds to GU’s 7, but only had a 15-12 edge in second-chance points.
“We might have been a little bit impatient and rushed,” Cougars coach Dave Rose said. “Gonzaga has a tendency to hurry you up because they are long, athletic and physical, which sometimes causes you to take quicker shots.”