LAS VEGAS – It was one highlight play after another on an endless loop. Slick passes, 3-pointers that barely ruffled the net, suffocating defense, steals, smart passes, run-out layups.
More 3s. More steals. More of everything.
Gonzaga put a run on BYU that lasted from late in the first half to nearly the midpoint of the second. When it was over, the Zags led by 32 points and a crowd of 8,030 mostly outfitted in Gonzaga gear was on its feet in appreciation inside the Orleans Arena.
The sixth-ranked Zags blasted the Cougars 74-54 Tuesday night to claim their sixth consecutive West Coast Conference Tournament championship. Gonzaga (30-4) reached the 30-win mark for the fourth time in six seasons and made a convincing final argument for a top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Zags were impressive, so much so that coach Mark Few marveled at one of the finest stretches of basketball in Gonzaga’s two decades on the national stage.
“That’s probably as good a run as I’ve ever been part of in my 28 years at Gonzaga and 19 as head coach or whatever it is,” Few said. “Just fantastic defense that led to great offense, sharing it, making quick decisions, moving the ball, playing together.
“It was just a thing of beauty to see.”
After the trophy presentation, the Zags posed for pictures while players took turns cutting down the net. Tournament most outstanding player Killian Tillie took a snap with GU president Thayne McCulloh. Johnathan Williams, an all-tournament selection, huddled with his family. Josh Perkins had well-wishers stop him every few feet.
The sharing the Zags showed on the court carried over to the postgame celebration. Perkins cut the last strand, thanks to an assist from Few, and handed the net over to Tillie, who gave it to senior Silas Melson.
“Few gave me permission. I didn’t want to get in trouble,” said Perkins, who had 22 assists in three games, 10 more than any other player in the tournament. “ ‘Si’ deserves the net.”
It was surprising the net was still intact after another sizzling shooting exhibition by the Zags. Tillie scored 22 points and hit three more 3-pointers. It was practically breaking news when he missed one from distance, snapping a streak of 11 in the tournament and 12 overall.
“I was shooting great the last month,” Tillie said. “The one went in and out. I’m ticked, but it’s OK. I made two (3s) after, so it was great.”
Norvell hit four 3s, added 17 points, and somehow was left off the all-tournament team. Williams was steady as always, producing 10 points and 13 rebounds and he helped slow down talented BYU forward Yoeli Childs.
A blowout looked unlikely as Childs hit three 3-pointers – he was shooting 21.6 percent on the season before rattling off a tourney streak of six in a row – and his 18 first-half points kept the contest close.
The teams traded jabs until the Zags closed the half with an 11-2 spurt to take a 38-29 lead. Perkins had bookend layups, Williams dropped a jump hook and Norvell Jr. connected on a smooth step-back jumper.
Gonzaga’s momentum grew stronger at the outset of the second half, and it started at the defensive end. Childs found little room to operate. TJ Haws penetrated only to find a wall of defenders and fling up an errant shot. Elijah Bryant, averaging 26 points in two tourney games, was swatted in the paint by Williams.
After the turnovers or defensive stops, Gonzaga raced downcourt and cut up BYU’s defense. The run finished with 3s by Tillie, Melson, Perkins and Norvell, with Perkins mixing in a steal and layup.
“We always talk about the dam will break, so keep pounding,” Norvell said. “We have a lot of guys that are really talented on the offensive end. When we buckled down and got some stops it’s tough to beat us.”
Gonzaga beat up BYU (24-10) on the glass 41-33. When points were hard to come by early, GU worked the offensive glass and built an 8-0 edge in second-chance points.
The Zags corralled the big three of Childs, Haws and Bryant. They were a combined 14 of 38 from the field.
And there was that stunning, will-breaking 36-4 run. BYU battled on gamely, but there was no recovering from a 32-point deficit.
“They knew it was over,” Perkins said. “When we’re playing like that, I think any team knows that. Just looking over there, I saw defeat.”