It was a rout, then a ballgame and ultimately a nailbiter.
BYU scored the last 10 points to pull off a 79-71 upset over No. 1 Gonzaga in front of 6,000 Saturday at the McCarthey Athletic Center, handing the Zags’ their first loss in the regular-season finale.
The Zags (29-1, 17-1 WCC) fell on Senior Night for the third straight year, two of those to BYU (21-10, 12-6).
“BYU deserves a lot of credit,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “They played us tough, played us physical, made some big shots and big plays down the stretch and we didn’t.
“We left a lot hanging out there. We missed a lot of free throws and turned the ball over too much to win a close game like that.”
Gonzaga finished 16 of 29 from the free-throw line.
The Zags saw an early 16-point lead melt away, but used an 8-2 spurt to take a 58-46 advantage with 13:26 left.
The Cougars mounted another comeback and took one-point leads on three occasions with less than 8 minutes remaining. It was just the third time Gonzaga has trailed in the second half this season.
“They haven’t had anybody have the lead on them in the second half for quite a while,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “I thought that would be a big emotional thing for us, and an emotional thing for them to have to respond to it.”
Gonzaga regained the lead on Przemek Karnowski’s spin move and bank shot with 6:50 remaining. A pair of Jordan Mathews’ free throws put GU on top by three but TJ Haws drained his fifth 3-pointer to tie it.
“We just said we need to take it one possession at a time,” Haws said. “We got stops and started making baskets at the other end.
“That first (3-pointer) goes in and that hoop gets a little bigger. I just tried to stay aggressive and I got some open looks.”
BYU’s Elijah Bryant tied it with a layup with 1:46 remaining. Sophomore center Eric Mika, who finished with 29 points and 11 rebounds, made a 16-foot jumper. After a GU turnover, Corbin Kaufusi hit a putback.
The Zags turned it over again and BYU wrapped it up with four straight free throws.
Gonzaga looked like it was going to run BYU off the court early, bolting in front 18-2.
But the Cougars weathered GU’s fast start by tightening up defensively, knocking down shots – 9 of 12 in one stretch – and collecting the offensive rebound when they missed.
Mathews scored four points and Johnathan Williams and Nigel Williams-Goss each added three-point plays as Gonzaga bumped its lead to 41-35 at half. The Zags made 59.3 percent of their field-goal attempts but were stung by seven turnovers and 7-of-16 shooting from the free-throw line.
Gonzaga made just 33.3 percent of its second-half shots. The Zags finished 3 of 16 beyond the 3-point arc.
Senior Night struggles
Gonzaga has dropped three straight Senior Night games. BYU knocked off Gonzaga 73-70 two years ago, dropping the Zags to 29-2. Saint Mary’s beat Gonzaga 63-58 last year in the home regular-season finale and the Cougars pulled off another upset, 79-71, on Saturday.
“Obviously it didn’t go as we had hoped,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “Gosh, we might have to change how we do these Senior Nights. We haven’t been very good on them.”
Senior guard Jordan Mathews scored 12 points. Senior center Przemek Karnowski had 10 points and six rebounds. Senior guard Rem Bakamus logged two minutes in his first career start.
“It sucks,” junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss said. “I don’t know what else to say.”
Subscribe to Zags newsletter
Get the latest Zags headlines delivered to your inbox as they happen.