PROVO, Utah – With 35 seconds left and the outcome decided, Gonzaga coach Mark Few hugged assistant coach Tommy Lloyd and shook hands with or hugged every coach, player and team official along the bench.
He wanted to share Gonzaga’s latest accomplishment, an outright West Coast Conference championship by virtue of an impressive 79-65 win over BYU at the jam-packed Marriott Center on Saturday.
Few’s team wasn’t in the mood to share.
“As a competitor you’re happy to win, but you don’t want to share the trophy with nobody else,” freshman guard Zach Norvell Jr. said. “That’s being selfish in a good way. We didn’t want to have to say ‘Saint Mary’s’ behind the championship. We wanted to come here and just take it, and I felt like we did that from the jump.”
No. 6 Gonzaga (27-4, 17-1 WCC) locked up the top seed in next week’s WCC Tournament. The Cougars (22-9, 11-7) finished third, but absorbed their most conference losses since joining the WCC six years ago.
The Zags produced their best 40 minutes since thumping Saint Mary’s 78-65 in Moraga, California, two weeks ago. They were definitely in the mood to exploit mismatches inside and muzzle BYU’s offense in the second half.
Gonzaga bigs Johnathan Williams, Rui Hachimura and Killian Tillie scored 15 straight points as the Zags turned a nine-point lead into 19 midway through the second half.
How they scored those points was equally frustrating for BYU’s outmanned frontcourt. Williams stayed patient against a brief double team before creating space for a jump hook.
Hachimura was fouled on the low block by Zac Seljaas, an inch shorter and 15 pounds lighter, and converted two free throws. A few minutes later, Hachimura made a mid-range jumper over Yoeli Childs.
Williams, who wasn’t at full strength after spraining his ankle versus San Diego, hit another jump hook and Tillie floated beyond the arc for his second 3-pointer. Hachimura posted up 6-foot-5, 210-pound Elijah Bryant for an easy bucket inside.
The guards were just as effective as the frontcourt. Silas Melson scored all 12 of his points in the first half. Josh Perkins stuffed the stat sheet with 15 points, seven assists, six rebounds and two steals. Norvell couldn’t get a 3-pointer to drop but did some damage on the drive, finishing with seven free throws and 15 points.
“I’ve got post players that can score, shooters around me, cutters, the whole package,” Perkins said. “It’s just my job to put guys in spots to be successful.”
The Zags sprinted out of the gates with a blend of inside baskets and 3-pointers. Melson, Tillie and Perkins combined for four 3-pointers as Gonzaga raced in front 26-12.
The tenor changed when Bryant, who was limited to four points in Spokane, heated up and got the sellout crowd of 18,987 involved in the process. He scored 13 points in the final nine minutes of the half.
The Cougars cut the deficit to 38-36, but Williams got loose on the low block and Perkins drilled a long 3 just before the buzzer to give Gonzaga a 43-38 lead at the break.
“We knew with their little plays the crowd would get into it,” Perkins said, “but just making that one hustle play, the next play and sticking together is what mattered.”
Perkins buried a 28-footer to open the second half. Radar required? “The compass, and everything out there,” he cracked. “It was a good night, great night.”
Gonzaga reeled in Bryant and every other Cougar except Childs in the second half. Childs scored 13 of his 19 points, but his teammates managed just 3 of 19 from the field. BYU needed 13 second-half free throws for its 27 second-half points.
Bryant missed all five of his second-half shots. TJ Haws, who had 22 points in the first meeting, went scoreless in 18 second-half minutes.
“Their top three (Bryant, Haws and Childs) are a handful and keep an opposing head coach up at night,” Few said. “To hold them to seven field goals in the half is about as good you could hope for.”
The versatile Bryant is one of the top guards in the conference, but he’s just 6 of 28 from the field, including 2 of 17 from 3, in two games versus Gonzaga.
“He’s a really good player, a really strong player,” Melson said. “We have to guard him with five guys. We’re not the biggest of guards. We need some help and the bigs started helping up and protecting the basket at a high level.”
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