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Gonzaga Basketball

Analysis: BYU too tough for Gonzaga in 91-78 upset

BYU forward Yoeli Childs (23) goes to the basket as Gonzaga guard Joel Ayayi (11) defends during the second half of NCAA college basketball game Saturday, Feb. 22, 2020, in Provo, Utah. (Rick Bowmer / AP)

PROVO, Utah – Killian Tillie recognized exactly what No. 23 BYU did to No. 2 Gonzaga in a 91-78 upset Saturday night.

It was roughly the same thing Gonzaga did to the Cougars last month in Spokane in a 23-point win.

The Cougars turned the tables in dramatic fashion, getting the better of it in most columns on the stat sheet by physically imposing their will on the Zags.

“They out-toughed us for sure, and it showed at the end of the game. They made shots and it’s easy like that when you play hard, shots fall in automatically,” Tillie said. “Everybody, including me, didn’t do a good job of being physical and communicating. Nobody had the fight in their eyes, everybody had blank faces.

“That’s what we did (against BYU) in our gym. They did it back to us here.”

BYU (23-7, 12-3 WCC) clipped Gonzaga’s run at an unbeaten conference season for the second time in four years. In 2017, the Cougars spoiled Gonzaga’s Senior Night and bid for a 30-0 regular season.

BYU also ended Gonzaga’s 19-game winning streak, the nation’s longest road winning streak at 18 and the Zags’ 40-game WCC regular-season winning streak.

Gonzaga (27-2, 13-1) had a chance to return to No. 1 in the polls and solidify a spot on the 1 seed line with a win. BYU had other ideas, riding a huge night from Yoeli Childs (28 points, 10 rebounds, three assists) and the energy from a boisterous crowd of 18,987 to snap Gonzaga’s five-game winning streak at the Marriott Center.

“They were just playing with much more spirit, much more passion and they were off-the-charts tougher than we were,” Gonzaga head coach Mark Few said. “We got out-toughed in every phase. If you’re not the toughest team, you’re putting yourselves in position to drop a game.”

Childs, one of seven Cougars honored on Senior Night during pregame festivities, didn’t play in the first meeting in Spokane due to a finger injury. He gave the Cougars an inside presence to go with their array of 3-point shooters. The 6-foot-8 senior went to work midway through the first half as BYU started to take control.

He had three straight buckets as BYU moved in front 21-18.

The Cougars, who lead the nation in 3-point accuracy at 42.2%, missed their first six from distance, but knocked down five in the final 10 minutes of the half and 11 of 27 attempts overall.

“It’s hard to guard both of them,” Gonzaga wing Corey Kispert said. “You can stop Childs in the posts and give up open 3s. You can contain the 3-line and let him go to work in there. When we tried to double him, we missed our coverages. We have to be better going forward.”

The Zags never seemed fully comfortable on offense, even after taking a 14-8 lead following consecutive 3-pointers by Admon Gilder.

“We’ve had some really physical games. In the past, we’ve responded,” Few said. “We couldn’t match their intensity, their toughness, and sure as heck didn’t match their execution. They were sharing it, moving and passing. Both our teams have done a great job with that this year. That was not us tonight.”

Jake Toolson and TJ Haws drilled deep 3-pointers as BYU took a 46-38 edge at halftime.

It got worse for the Zags in the second half. Childs continued to dominate in the lane and Toolson drilled another deep 3 from 28 feet. He finished with five 3-pointers and 17 points.

“We told them Toolson has been shooting it really deep,” Few said. “Some of our guys didn’t heed the warning.”

Gonzaga fell behind by 14 before cutting the deficit to 70-68 with 7:53 remaining. The Cougars took off, scoring nine of the next 11 points and closing the game with a 21-10 run, punctuated by Childs’ slam dunk.

“The tougher team won,” Kispert said. “The basketball gods reward aggression and toughness. Those guys had it and we didn’t. Definitely a lot of lessons learned for the next time we see them.”

Gonzaga gave up a season-high point total and its most since North Carolina’s 103 in December 2018. BYU made 53% of its field-goal attempts. The Zags faded in the final 7 minutes to finish at 41.7 % from the field.

BYU’s “Big Three” of Childs, Toolson and Haws combined for 61 points, 17 rebounds and 17 assists. Tillie led GU with 18 points, Kispert had 16 and Filip Petrusev added 14.