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Sports >  Gonzaga basketball

Gonzaga takes BYU, crowd out of game early, rolls to 90-57 victory

Feb. 5, 2022 Updated Sat., Feb. 5, 2022 at 10:35 p.m.

PROVO, Utah – The Marriott Center, filled with nearly 19,000 energetic fans, is one of the loudest venues in college basketball.

It was again Saturday night – during pregame introductions, when BYU won the opening tip and for the first 75 seconds when the Cougars went on top 5-0.

Then No. 2 Gonzaga hit the mute button with one of its finest stretches of basketball this season, a lengthy, dominating performance at both ends of the court that generated a 90-57 rout and a rare opportunity for a largely stress-free evening on BYU’s home court.

Gonzaga (19-2, 8-0 West Coast Conference) answered BYU’s early lead with 12 unanswered points – and that was just the beginning. The Zags added runs of 10-0, 9-3 and 7-0 that stretched their lead to 47-17 with 2 minutes left in the half.

In other words, a 47-12 surge over 16 minutes, 45 seconds.

“I feel like sometimes getting that first punch in the mouth gets everybody going, gets everybody awake,” sophomore wing Julian Strawther said. “We knew we couldn’t come down here and go down big with this crowd and atmosphere. We knew we had to fight back immediately.”

Chet Holmgren led GU’s response to the early deficit, piling up a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds in the opening half. His points and boards were obviously important, but his four blocks and his 7-foot presence influencing errant shot attempts might have been an even bigger deal.

“Everybody knows he’s in there or around and that’s as big as the actual blocks,” Gonzaga coach Mark Few said. “You drive in there, you’re always looking and thinking where he’s at. It’s quite a weapon to have.”

BYU had just six paint points in the first half. Shot after shot from close range either met Holmgren’s hand or was off target from close range.

Meanwhile, the Zags hit four 3-pointers, scored 20 points in the paint and 11 more off nine Cougars turnovers. BYU needed a pair of late 3-pointers to trim Gonzaga’s lead to 47-23 at halftime.

The second half was more of the same. Gonzaga doubled up BYU at 72-36 and led by 38 a short time later.

It was reminiscent of Gonzaga’s 93-63 road win over the Cougars in 2019. The Zags have an 8-3 record at the Marriott Center under Few, but most have been tense, 40-minute affairs.

Holmgren’s streak reached white-hot levels. He finished with 20 points, 17 rebounds, six assists and five blocks. In the previous eight games, he was averaging 16 points on 66.7% shooting, 9.4 rebounds and 2.9 blocks.

“That’s Chet,” Few said. “He does a little bit of everything.”

BYU’s slump deepened as it dropped its fourth consecutive game, the first time that’s happened since the 2013-14 season under coach Dave Rose. The Cougars (17-8, 5-5) have never finished below third since joining the WCC in 2011-12.

BYU played without starting point guard and second-leading scorer Te’Jon Lucas, who suffered a concussion in Thursday’s home loss to San Francisco. Fifth-year senior guard Alex Barcello, who averages a team-high 17.3 points, had just four points in the first half.

Barcello finished with nine points on 4-of-14 shooting, 1 of 7 on 3-pointers.

“We had Rasir (Bolton) chasing him, Hunter (Sallis), Nolan (Hickman) and Andrew (Nembhard),” Few said. “They did a great job. I think we lost him one time and hit a 3 on us. He’s made himself into a heck of a player. We did a good job on him and a nice job on some of their secondary scorers as well.”

The Cougars made just 30% from the field. Gideon George led BYU with 14 points. Seneca Knight scored all of his 13 points in the second half, but he was just 3 of 15 on field-goal attempts.

BYU’s student section, roughly 6,000 strong, was ready to roar, but the Cougars didn’t give them much to cheer about. Even after an 11-0 run in the second half that trimmed GU’s lead to 74-47 with 7:48 left, fans were heading for the exits.

Two of the loudest ovations of the night came when the crowd erupted with a choreographed yell during Holmgren’s free-throw attempt to produce a three-point play and a louder reaction after it bounced off the rim. Gonzaga led 58-31 at the time.

Holmgren had plenty of help on the stat sheet. Strawther finished with 19 points. Nembhard had 15 points, six steals, four rebounds and four assists. Bolton, who hit two 3s in the first 5 minutes, and Drew Timme each had 13 points.

The Zags, who entertain Pacific on Thursday and Saint Mary’s on Saturday, have won 12 consecutive games, 10 road games in a row and 29 consecutive WCC contests. Saint Mary’s (19-4, 7-1) is one game behind Gonzaga after a 71-60 victory over LMU on Saturday.

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