PROVO, Utah – Normally easy-going Sam Dower Jr. sat on a stool inside a cramped locker room with a look of complete frustration on his face.
Gonzaga was in chase mode most of the game but the Bulldogs couldn’t string together enough clean possessions and/or defensive stops to catch BYU, which dug out a 73-65 victory Thursday in front of a noisy crowd of 19,136 at the Marriott Center.
“They came out and outplayed us and outrebounded us,” Dower said. “That’s why it hurts even deeper. We know if we played harder we could have won that game.”
The 25th-ranked Bulldogs took the lead late in the first half, but gave it right back at the outset of the second half with a flurry of turnovers. The Cougars scored the first six points of the second half and the Zags couldn’t make up the deficit.
Rebounding, again, was one of the sticking points. BYU outrebounded the Bulldogs by 10 in the second half, which led to 10 second-chance points for the Cougars.
“Just look at our losses,” Dower said. “Memphis, Dayton, Portland and now BYU. We got killed on the rebounds in all those games.”
Gonzaga (23-5, 13-2 WCC) needs one win in its last three games to clinch an outright conference championship. Second-place BYU (19-10, 11-5) boosted its NCAA Tournament credentials with a hard-fought victory.
Dower had 14 points for Gonzaga, but the senior forward, much like sophomore center Przemek Karnowski, battled foul trouble all night. Kevin Pangos had 13 points and the Bulldogs got a nice lift off the bench from Kyle Dranginis (six points, six rebounds, four assists, three steals), Gerard Coleman (seven points) and freshman Ryan Edwards (five points and five boards).
But the Bulldogs suffered through a cold-shooting second half (33.3 percent) and committed 16 turnovers that BYU turned into 18 points.
“Those hurt,” coach Mark Few said. “They were bad early and then bad in that little stretch at the start of the second half. We got the ball right where we wanted on maybe 3-4 possessions and we had a couple guys that weren’t quite ready to compete tonight.
“You had to have your helmet on tonight and a couple of our guys didn’t, and that opened up opportunities for others.”
Anson Winder, making just his third start of the season, led BYU with 17 points. Matt Carlino had two big baskets and three free throws late en route to 15 points. Freshman center Eric Mika added 13 points. Tyler Haws scored 12 points, half of his season average.
Gonzaga was down by six in the first 2 minutes and trailed by 10 on three occasions in the first half.
Mika, coming off the bench for the first time this season, had 11 points and five boards as BYU built a 34-24 edge.
Dower’s jumper started a string of eight unanswered points. Coleman contributed a pair of field goals and Edwards scored five points – including his first two field goals of the season – and blocked a shot.
Edwards’ three-point play gave Gonzaga a 37-36 advantage, its first lead since 13-11. Another Edwards layup off a nice feed from Pangos gave GU a three-point lead but Haws tied it with a 3-pointer just before the buzzer.
The Cougars carried the momentum through the break. Gonzaga opened the half by misfiring on three shots and turning the ball over three times. GU closed within two points three times but never pulled even.
“We didn’t get some rebounds we needed, some loose balls. We just couldn’t get the lead,” Pangos said. “We just have to scrap it out a little more. I know some guys were afraid of fouling (out), but we have to find a way to get those (50-50) balls because those are possessions and they turned into buckets for them.”