So many things Gonzaga has relied on this season – inside game, rebounding, Kevin Pangos and Kyle Wiltjer working the pick-and-roll – were neutralized by BYU on Saturday.
Because of that so many things the Zags have been protecting – a possible No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and the nation’s longest home-court winning streak of 41 – went by the wayside, too.
BYU outplayed the Zags at both ends of the court and held on for a streak-busting 73-70 win, spoiling Gonzaga’s Senior Night in front of 6,000 at McCarthey Athletic Center.
“We’ve never brought up any of that stuff (No. 1 seed, home winning streak),” Pangos said. “That doesn’t really matter. We still think we’re in a good situation and we’re going to keep playing and fix what we need to.”
Gonzaga (29-2, 17-1 WCC) never led. The Zags rallied back from an 11-point deficit within 3 but only had 1.5 seconds left. Wiltjer took an inbounds pass and his 3-point attempt from 55 feet was on line but hit the back iron.
BYU players poured onto the court to celebrate as the Cougars (23-8, 13-5) collected a marquee win that should bolster their NCAA at-large resume. The last time BYU knocked off an opponent ranked as high as Gonzaga (second in USA Today, third in AP) was when it defeated No. 2 UCLA in Nov. 1981.
“They were far and away the most aggressive team,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They were the ones, anytime there was a 50-50 ball or a rebound to be had, they’d go get it. Right when we’d get it back to even, they’d get a steal, make a big play or a big shot. We could never quite get control of it.
“They really took it to us on the glass. Those offensive rebounds are what really stung us bad.”
Gonzaga beat the Cougars 87-80 in Provo in late December, but BYU has made significant strides defensively. Byron Wesley led GU with 17 points and Domantas Sabonis had 12 points and eight rebounds. Wiltjer and Pangos, GU’s top two scorers, combined to make just 5 of 23 attempts.
“Our front line has gotten a lot better,” Cougars coach Dave Rose said. “Corbin (Kaufusi), Ryan (Andrus) and Luke (Worthington) have gotten better, which has stabilized us. There were a lot of balls contested at the basket that we didn’t have earlier in the year.”
The Zags weren’t able to utilize their size advantage inside.
“They switched all of Kyle’s ball screens, something we’ve really torched all year and we didn’t,” Few said. “Then we had to weigh, they had four guards out there and chasing them around flare screens, which isn’t what 6-10 guys usually do. That’s why we went small and guarded them a little better but we didn’t have our normal back-to-the-basket game.”
Gonzaga was out of sync from the start. The Zags endured their third straight sluggish start offensively, making just 1 of their first nine shots and falling behind 11-2.
The Cougars, No. 1 in the country in scoring at 84.4 points, hit 6 of 8 3-pointers before cooling off late in the half. BYU led 36-29 after Kyle Collinsworth’s layup but the Zags closed the half with a 7-0 spurt. Wiltjer made his first basket, Eric McClellan added a 3-pointer and Pangos hit a fall-away jumper with 3 seconds left to tie it at 36.
Skyler Halford’s jumper extended BYU’s lead to 62-51 with 7:35 remaining. Gonzaga started cutting into the deficit, despite numerous misses at the free-throw line. Wesley’s bank shot pulled GU within 5, but Collinsworth made a high-arcing bucket inside while being fouled. His free throw gave BYU an eight-point lead.
Wesley made two free throws to bring the Zags within 69-66 with 50.3 seconds left, but Collinsworth responded with a putback basket.
Brigham Young had 15 offensive rebounds and a 19-12 edge in second-chance points.
Collinsworth finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.
“Our shots weren’t falling, they were more aggressive and scrappier,” Pangos said. “They made it tough for us on offense and we couldn’t get a rebound on defense.”
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