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Gonzaga turns up defensive intensity in second half to create separation against BYU

UPDATED: Thu., Jan. 13, 2022

Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren rejects a shot by BYU forward Caleb Lohner on Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center.  (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren rejects a shot by BYU forward Caleb Lohner on Thursday at the McCarthey Athletic Center. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Gonzaga could point to any number of tactical changes that were made to slow down BYU’s offense in the second half, but a strong halftime message from Mark Few seemed to be effective as anything else as the Bulldogs waited for their normally sound defense to match a dynamic, high-scoring offense.

“Coach coming in and lighting a stick up under us,” said junior forward Drew Timme when asked how the Zags improved on the defensive end of the floor to create separation from the Cougars in a 110-84 blowout at McCarthey Athletic Center. “We also hold ourselves to a certain standard and they were hot in the first half, they were hitting a bunch of 3s.”

Gonzaga’s offense was as dominant as it had been all season, but the Bulldogs entered halftime leading by just 12 points against a BYU team that had a better shot at going blow-for-blow with the country’s top-ranked offense, according to KenPom.com, than trying to draw the Zags into a defensive tug-of-war.

Mark Pope’s Cougars torched the nets through the first 20 minutes of the game, making 19 of 38 shots form the field (50%) while connecting on 10 of 18 from the beyond the 3-point line.

“We slipped up I’d say for a 6-minute stretch in the first half and I’d also say in the second half, the first 2 or 3 minutes we were going on offense, but defensively we’ve got to be better,” Timme said. “We let them get some offensive rebounds, some putbacks. Our initial defense was good, but it was just that second and third wave, we let them get some putbacks or wide-open 3s off just miscues.

“That’s kind of the beauty of where we’re at, man, we put up 100-something points and we’re not satisfied with that. We know we can do a lot better. We can hold them to less points and we turned the ball over, I turned the ball over, so we’ve still got a lot we can work on.”

Few’s words at halftime hit home for Gonzaga, which shored up its efforts on the defensive end to hold BYU to just 35 points in the second half on 13 of 36 (36%) from the field and 3 of 11 (27%) from beyond the arc.

“I really thought one of the big keys was our defense settled in in the second half,” Few said. “It was much better because they torched us pretty good in the first half.”

BYU’s 3-point shooters didn’t see as many openings in the second half – most notably Alex Barcello, a 40% shooter from distance who had 15 points on four 3s in the first half and just five points on one made 3 in the second.

Gonzaga kept BYU’s perimeter shooters at bay in the second half and regularly made life hard on the Cougars whenever they took the ball to the rim. Freshman Chet Holmgren had five blocked shots Thursday and Timme added another.

“I think both teams were trying to take away certain things,” Few said. “We certainly didn’t want to give up 10 3s to them and I think we’ll go back and watch. Some of them were on broken plays and then they were doing a good job after we’d downhill switch.”

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