LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga men’s basketball coach Mark Few was feeling the pressure Saturday. No, he wasn’t too worried about the Bulldogs’ position in the eyes of the NCAA tournament selection committee.
The wave pool opens Monday at the hotel where Gonzaga was staying, and Few’s kids wanted to stick around to enjoy it. Of course, that required a win over third-seeded BYU, and Gonzaga came up with one of its more complete efforts of the season en route to a 77-58 victory in the West Coast Conference tournament semifinals.
The win, viewed by a sell-out crowd of 7,828 at the Orleans Arena, sends the second-seeded Bulldogs (25-5) into Monday’s championship game against No. 1 Saint Mary’s, which downed No. 5 San Francisco 83-78. The Bulldogs and Gaels have clashed in the last three title games with Gonzaga winning twice.
“I was getting a lot of heat from my kids,” said Few, who applauded Gonzaga’s work at both ends of the court. GU made 55 percent of its shots and limited BYU to 38 percent. The Cougars’ 58 points was their second-lowest point total of the season. BYU scored 56 in an early-season loss to Wisconsin.
Freshman guard Kevin Pangos torched the Cougars for 30 points, five 3-pointers and four assists. After suffering through one of his rare tough nights of the season in a 10-point loss to BYU in Provo in early February, Pangos rebounded with 18 points in a 74-63 win in Spokane, and he poured in 30 Saturday.
In the process, Gonzaga operated more efficiently against BYU’s zone defense, which had bothered the Bulldogs’ offense at times. Gonzaga finished with 13 turnovers. The Zags had 15 in the first half in Provo.
“I just try to read the defense and see what they give me and I was feeling it a bit,” Pangos said. Of the Cougars’ zone, Pangos said, “You don’t want to learn in a loss, but it helped us learn that we have to move the ball. In that game we were a bit passive. If we can be strong and aggressive, it’s good for us.”
BYU, which dropped to 25-8, will have to wait for a week before learning if it has done enough to merit an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament.
Gonzaga talks often about throwing the first punch and it landed a flurry of blows at the outset. Pangos was at the center of most of it, hitting a pair of 3s, scoring 12 points and handing out three assists to help Gonzaga to a 38-26 halftime lead.
Pangos made consecutive 3s from almost the identical spot in the corner for an early 12-4 lead. It was 19-5 after Guy Landry Edi forced a turnover – one of 11 by the Cougars in the opening 20 minutes – and finished at the other end with a one-handed jam.
Gonzaga was in front 27-12 when BYU coach Dave Rose, upset that GU center Robert Sacre wasn’t called for an offensive foul on a post move, was assessed a technical foul. Pangos made both free throws and Sacre hit 1 of 2 to stretch Gonzaga’s lead to 18.
After Rose’s technical, the Cougars closed within 34-24 on Charles Abouo’s 3-pointer with 2:26 left. GU patiently worked the ball and found Edi, who made a 3-pointer. Matt Carlino’s free throws trimmed GU’s lead to 12 at the break.
Abouo and Brandon Davies made 5 of 10 shots while their teammates were just 3 of 15.
Three times BYU cut Gonzaga’s lead to 10 in the second half. Each time Pangos answered with baskets. Three times BYU cut Gonzaga’s lead to 11. Each time Pangos answered, once with a 3, once with a free throw and once with a runner in the lane.
“He’s Derek Raivio-like with his attention to detail with his shot and his workouts,” Few said of Pangos. “When you have that in the back of your head, it’s a strong thing to draw on. We’ve been encouraging him to hunt his shot, and he did a great job with that.”
Edi finished with 11 points. Elias Harris chipped in 10 points, 15 rebounds and three assists.
BYU’s Noah Hartsock, slowed by a knee injury the last two weeks, didn’t start, but he played 30 minutes and scored 12 points. Brandon Davies led BYU with 17 points.
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