PROVO, Utah – There is taking it one game at a time. There is the game within the game. And then there was Gonzaga-BYU for 40 back-and-forth, occasionally frantic, wildly entertaining minutes Saturday.
“It felt like four games within one,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “Luckily we made the plays, tightened up our defense down the stretch. That’s what made the difference.”
The Zags will only get credit for one win, but it was a big one that required them to dig out of a rare second-half deficit to defeat BYU 87-80 in the WCC opener for both teams in front of 20,900 at the Marriott Center.
It took Kevin Pangos’ 18 second-half points, Gary Bell’s seven boards and defensive work on Tyler Haws, Kyle Wiltjer’s 24 points, Przemek Karnowski’s near double-double, Kyle Dranginis’ and Silas Melson’s contributions off the bench and Byron Wesley’s clutch plays in the final 65 seconds.
“It was our scrappiness,” Bell pointed out, “and our will to win.”
The eighth-ranked Zags (12-1) led by 16 midway through the first half. They trailed by six in the second half – their largest deficit this season was eight against Southeastern Louisiana – before slowly taking control in the final 15 minutes. Pangos scored 10 consecutive points as GU pulled even at 57.
Bell hit his only basket, a 3-pointer, and Pangos connected again from long distance. BYU (10-4) pulled ahead for the last time on Frank Bartley’s three free throws and tied it at 67 on Anson Winder’s fade-away jumper.
Gonzaga scored on its next four possessions. Wiltjer dropped a baseline jumper, Pangos buried a 3, Wiltjer added another 3 after Gonzaga swiftly moved the ball against BYU’s zone and Melson soared for a dunk on a nice pass from Karnowski.
The Cougars hit four free throws – they were 27 of 31 at the stripe – to pull within three. Wesley drove the right side of the lane and connected on a floater for his first field goal of the second half. The USC transfer wasn’t done, stripping the ball away from Kyle Collinsworth and then getting fouled with 38.1 seconds left. He made both free throws to boost GU’s lead to seven.
“That Arizona game definitely made me get in the gym and work that much harder,” said Wesley, who missed three free throws late in overtime against the Wildcats. “Being a competitor, I wanted to be in a position like that to help my team and I’m glad I came through.”
Pangos fouled out in the closing seconds but the issue had been decided, in large part because of his second-half performance.
“I haven’t played great here,” said a smiling Pangos, who had scored just 24 points on 7-of-28 shooting to go with six assists in three prior Marriott Center games. On Saturday, he had 21 points, made 5 of 8 3s and added seven assists.
Assistant coach Tommy Lloyd met Pangos with a hug near the bench.
“He’s such a conscientious guy, sometimes he’s so worried about getting everyone else involved and not taking care of himself,” Lloyd said. “I told him, ‘the team is going to be fine, you take care of yourself.’ He made all the big plays.”
Gonzaga’s offense was efficient, except for a bad stretch in the last 9 minutes of the first half that proved costly. BYU got its transition game rolling and its four-guard lineup repeatedly drove to the rim and was rewarded with trips to the free-throw line. The trade-off came at the other end, where Karnowski had three assists passing out of double teams and Wiltjer found gaps in the zone or used his size advantage when isolated against a guard.
“Wiltjer hurt us in the high post, in the midpost, from the 3-point line,” BYU coach Dave Rose said.
The Zags made BYU work harder for its second-half points. Haws and Winder both finished with 17 points, but they combined to make just 9 of 26 shots. Collinsworth picked up his 10th assist – he registered his second triple-double by adding 13 points and 10 boards – with 18 seconds left on BYU’s lone field goal in the final 5 minutes.
“Because we were scoring we were able to set our defense,” Few said. “The first half, our transition defense was a joke. They were just running by us.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Follow along with the Zags
Subscribe to our Gonzaga Basketball newsletter to stay up with the latest news.