Gonzaga took a big step closer toward an unbeaten regular season, roughing up BYU on Monday night for the second time this season.
The Bulldogs didn’t duplicate their 23-2 start against BYU from the Jan. 7 meeting in Spokane, but they came close with a 15-2 burst to open the rematch.
In the process, the Zags ended a string of sluggish starts and set the table for an impressive 82-71 victory over the Cougars at the Marriott Center in Provo.
The top-ranked Zags (19-0, 10-0 West Coast Conference) are down to six conference games, provided two postponed games against Santa Clara and one versus Loyola Marymount are rescheduled.
Second-place BYU (15-5, 6-3), which trailed by as many as 32 points in Spokane and lost by 17, was down by 22 with 7:15 remaining.
“That (start) was just how much respect they have for BYU,” Zags coach Mark Few said. “This team, all year when they know the guys across from them are more than capable of taking them down, have always responded pretty darn well. We were slogging along at Pacific (in a 76-58 win last Thursday). We wanted to get out and play with some pace, and we certainly did that.”
Gonzaga sophomore forward Drew Timme, who had a fairly quiet night with 12 points in the first meeting, scored 12 in the first half Monday. He worked over BYU posts Matt Haarms, Richard Harward and Kolby Lee in the paint and added a 3-pointer for good measure.
Timme finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds for his third double-double of the season. He helped Gonzaga to a 40-28 edge in paint points.
Jalen Suggs overcame first-half foul trouble to put up 24 points, five rebounds and three assists in 26 minutes. Andrew Nembhard, starting in place of Anton Watson, contributed 15 points, three rebounds and two assists.
“Sometimes he’s so aggressive, he got a couple tough ones early, I’ll have to go back and watch those first two (fouls),” Few said of Suggs. “He’s not going to play perfect every game out, Some nights like tonight the shots will be dropping, and then other nights are a little bit tougher. He was on it (against BYU) from the jump.”
The Zags grabbed the momentum early, with 3-pointers by Corey Kispert, Nembhard and Timme helping build a 15-2 lead.
The Cougars battled on nearly even terms after their slow start. BYU closed to 19-13 on Brandon Averette’s 3-pointer, but the Zags made 7 of their next 9 shots as Timme kept dominating in the paint.
Timme’s field goal gave Gonzaga a 34-19 advantage with 6:41 left. Alex Barcello, who led the Cougars with 20 points, rallied BYU within 41-31 at the half.
The Cougars were within 50-42, but the Zags took off with a 22-8 spurt to take a 72-50 lead with 7:15 left. Nembhard struck for three field goals and Suggs extended the lead with a basket, a long 3-pointer and a reverse layup on a feed from Nembhard.
BYU committed 19 turnovers, leading to 26 GU points.
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