Gonzaga turned back the clock Thursday, and not in a good way.
The Zags sputtered in crunch time and received limited production from their guards, reminiscent of the team’s struggles in late November and early December.
BYU walked out of the McCarthey Athletic Center with a win for the second straight season, rallying from a 13-point deficit and overcoming Kyle Wiltjer’s 35 points to edge the Zags 69-68 in front of a packed house of 6,000.
Gonzaga, which had won seven straight to work its way back into the AP poll at No. 25, lost its third home game this season. The Zags haven’t dropped that many at home since falling four times at the Martin Centre in 1990-91.
The Zags (13-4, 5-1) have only lost four WCC home games since the McCarthey Athletic Center opened in 2004-05. BYU improved to 13-5, 4-1.
“This place is definitely the same,” senior guard Kyle Dranginis said. “It’s our execution down the stretch of games. We’ve had a couple losses like this now where they’re winnable games and we just made mistakes at the end.”
Gonzaga led 63-58 after Wiltjer’s step-back jumper with 5:46 remaining. BYU, which made just 3 of 17 3-pointers, connected when it counted as Kyle Collinsworth and Nick Emery made 3s, the latter putting the Cougars on top 69-67 with 1:36 left. It was Emery’s only points of the game.
GU had three shots to pull even or go ahead but BYU swatted two Eric McClellan attempts and Josh Perkins’ 3-pointer was wildly off the mark.
Emery missed the front end of a 1-and-1 with 23.6 seconds left and Wiltjer, who carried Gonzaga’s offense all night, was fouled with 8 seconds left. He hit the first free throw but missed the second. Collinsworth was called for traveling when he fell to the court after gathering the rebound.
Wiltjer drove the right side of the lane but his shot was rejected by Nate Austin. The BYU center missed a free throw with less than a second remaining but Wiltjer’s full-court heave came up way short.
“I was so focused on the guy behind me trying to draw the foul, I didn’t really see the help-side defender,” Wiltjer said. “We live with being aggressive.”
Gonzaga’s 52-41 lead melted away quickly after forward Domantas Sabonis picked up his fourth foul with 12:40 remaining. GU went up 54-41 but the Cougars charged back as Collinsworth struck for most of his 18 second-half points.
Sabonis, who had a quiet night with just five points and six boards, returned about four minutes later with Gonzaga leading 56-54.
“Domas getting his fourth foul was huge,” coach Mark Few said. “If you look at his plus-minus when he’s out there it’s pretty big.”
The WCC’s top two scoring offenses were out of rhythm most of the night. Gonzaga made just 37 percent from the field. Wiltjer was 11 of 23, the rest of the team just 10 of 34. BYU heated up in the second half to finish at 41.5 percent. The Cougars had a 40-20 edge in paint points and became just the second team to outrebound GU (41-39).
“I was proud of our guys to continue to play with a competitive edge when we were playing very well offensively,” BYU coach Dave Rose said. “We were fortunate that Sabonis got in foul trouble. We were playing them without their real comfortable lineup which is those two guys with the ball in the high post or low post. They tried to recreate it with some other guys but they’re really good with those two guys playing together.”
Perkins had 11 points and seven assists, but the Zags’ four other guards contributed just 11 points on 4-of-17 shooting.
“With Domas in foul trouble, I needed to step up a little bit and make a couple more shots, everybody did,” Dranginis said. “They were switching on Wiltjer screens and we got a little too focused on that instead of running our offense and being smooth.”
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