LAS VEGAS – Gonzaga players cut down the net after handling BYU 75-64 for the WCC tournament title Tuesday and began striding toward the locker room.
Seniors Sam Dower Jr. and David Stockton stuck around for a few minutes. Their families wanted a picture of the two roommates who were the leading men in Gonzaga’s three-game march through the tournament at Orleans Arena.
“That’s my best friend,” said Dower, who earned MVP honors after a 20-point, 13-rebound performance against the Cougars. “Our families are really cool and they wanted to capture a little moment that we made. It was a good time.”
It was another good night for the Bulldogs (28-6), who won their 12th WCC championship in 17 years and made reservations for their 16th consecutive NCAA tournament. They’ll find out their seeding and opponent Sunday afternoon.
“I can go to sleep peacefully (Saturday night),” Dower said.
Gonzaga had one of its finest halves of the season, leading by as many as 21 before settling for a 44-27 edge. The Zags made eight of their first nine shots. They didn’t miss many attempts, but two of their misfires were retrieved for putback baskets by Kyle Dranginis and Ryan Edwards.
“That’s always the game plan,” Stockton said, “when you can jump on a team like that, get an early lead and be able to come out in the second half and have that cushion.”
Dower had 14 points by the break, tossing in a 17-footer with the shot clock about to expire. Stockton had five of his seven assists and a monster block on Anson Winder’s layup attempt that brought Zags’ fans to their feet.
Senior forward Drew Barham made a pair of 3-pointers, Gary Bell Jr. didn’t miss a shot en route to eight of his 14 points.
Przemek Karnowski added six points, tripling his output from Monday’s semifinal, and three assists.
“We turned defense into offense,” said Bell, who had 41 points in three games. “We got into the gaps and made plays, and we knocked down shots when we needed to.”
The second half wasn’t nearly as smooth. Gonzaga made only six field goals – none after the 9-minute mark. The Zags weren’t able to get the ball inside against BYU’s zone, in part because Karnowski was on the bench in foul trouble, and they weren’t as aggressive with the dribble as they were in the first half.
“We got a little tentative and we were looking up and trying to protect the lead,” coach Mark Few said. “We tried to keep our guys in attack mode.”
The Cougars (23-11) mounted several comebacks, even after standout wing Kyle Collinsworth left with a knee injury with 13:40 remaining. BYU trailed by 20 when Collinsworth was helped from the court.
BYU, behind Tyler Haws’ 24 points and numerous trips to the free-throw line, twice sliced the deficit to eight. The Cougars repeatedly put the Zags on the free-throw line and they struggled to find the mark. Finally, Bell hit 2 of 3 and Karnowski made a pair and the lead was back in double figures.
Pangos connected on 9 of 12 free throws in the final 5 minutes.
“It was tough to see Kyle go down, but our guys just stayed with it,” said Haws, who joined Collinsworth and USF’s Cole Dickerson on the All-tournament team. “We tried to claw back into it. They made plays they needed to win the game.”
GU made 61 percent from the field in the first half, 52 percent for the game. BYU, just 3 of 13 on 3-pointers, shot 35.6 percent. Dower made 10 of 16 shots. Stockton had five boards, four points and three steals.
“They were huge,” Pangos said of Dower and Stockton. “They set the tone for us offensively and defensively, and everyone responded to that. For them to play like this in their last conference tournament, it’s great for them.”